Bryan Cave’s art law blog has an excellent post by Jonathan Pink discussing eleven copyright myths — click here to read it. Every corporate executive and small business owner needs to be aware of how the copyright laws impact their business, especially the intersection of copyright law and the internet. I developed a presentation as an element of a corporate copyright compliance program and I am amazed by the results every time I give the presentation to a new corporate division or small business. People are routinely, and largely accidentally, violating copyrights. But the worst part is that a little education, such as my presentation, followed by a few days of generally simple, inexpensive fixes resolves most accidental copyright infringement issues and provides a significant measure of protection for any business, large or small.
Pink’s eleven copyright myths, written in multiple choice format, are a great start toward improving copyright compliance and they are written both humorously and in plain language. Here are two of my favorites:
If it’s on the Web, it’s free for the taking.
a. No. Stealing is stealing.
b. Sure, why not?
c. This is true, but only if I use a 28KB modem, and the copyright expires before I finish downloading it.
The answer is a. Unless the work falls under a generally recognized exception to the copyright law, if it’s on the Web, copyright protection attaches, and you can get hit with an infringement lawsuit for misappropriating it. See 17 USC §501(a). Nothing about the Web strips otherwise protectable work of its copyright protection.
Copying just a little bit does not constitute copyright infringement.
The answer is all of the above. Though the "fair use" doctrine allows for some limited copying of a small portion of some works-for example, quotes for use in educational or scholarly works, criticism, parody, and news reporting-there is no bright-line rule as to how much is too much.
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That means that if you take your kid’s Darth Vader action figure, give it Barbie-like hair, and dress it in platform shoes, you’re going to get hit with an infringement action when you try selling it at Toys-R-Us as Ella Vader. You also risk getting hit with a morals charge.