Netiquette Banner Netiquette, by Virginia Shea, page 134

Q. What is copyright?

What we call "copyright" is really a collection of rights that belong to the creator of an original work -- for example, a book, an article, a painting, or a recording. U.S. copyright law recognizes seven of these rights, among them

The purpose of copyright law is to promote the "useful arts" by ensuring that the person who creates an "original work" can benefit from it. The law requires a copyrighted work to be expressed in a "fixed and tangible" form -- in other words, you can't copyright a song you've sung or a story you've told but never written down. Material that you've saved to a disk or posted to a discussion group would probably be considered "fixed and tangible," although, to be on the safe side, it couldn't hurt to print a copy to paper.

Copyright is only available for "original works" -- that is, things you've created yourself. You can't reprint a Shakespeare sonnet, which is in the public domain (see page 136), and copyright it in your own name.

Q. Why should I care about copyright?

You're likely to care about copyright in two situations:

  • 1. You're producing an original work and want to know what information you can legitimately take from other sources.
  • 2. You've completed the work and want to keep others from infringing your rights to it.

Q. How do I get a copyright on something I've written?

Congratulations! You probably already have it. Thanks to the Berne Convention of 1988, writers and artists in the United States automatically own the copyright to any work they create the moment it is created (with certain exceptions, of course -- you didn't expect this to be


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