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Intellectual Property and Copyright
The field of copyright, intellectual property, and rights to own things you've created, is regarded as simplistic by some people, and yet it's a complex region in which conflicting interests compound an already tricky situation. When you look around you can see a variety of extremist views on the subject, but I think there is a reasonable midground which can be found.
In the beginning, early people found they could get on well with each other if, instead of doing battle on a regular basis, there was an agreement by which people OWNED things; houses, livestock, gold, weapons, bits and pieces. This idea of possession worked quite well most of the time for most things. Things of value had an attachment to the person who owned them, and the concept of "theft" was introduced for the situation where the possessions were taken without agreement. The amount of fighting in early society was greatly reduced.
It was later found that some things which had value were less easy to hang onto as they had no unique location. If someone made up a good song, or wrote an enthralling story, or discovered the recipe for the best cakes, they had created something of value. But this newly-made valuable item did not have the key feature of physical wealth, which is that if someone steals it then the original owner is deprived of it.
This is where the duality comes from, and you have to see it from both viewpoints to understand why there's an issue. Supposing there's this fella called Shakespeare, and he writes a play, and folk agree it's a brilliant work of creative genius. Then along comes a thief, and he doesn't steal Shakespeare's candle, tankard, quill pen, and parchment, because he knows he could be hanged for that! Instead he writes down a copy of Shakespeare's play and makes off with it. No harm comes of it initially while the thief just entertains himself at home reading through the copy of the masterpiece, but later when a rumour comes around that the blackguard is performing a play in the next nearest town and the story is uncannily similar to that which Shakespeare himself had put pen to, there is trouble!
Shakespeare might feel justified in going along to the plagiarist (that's a person who copies someone else's work and passes it off as their own), and crossing swords with him!
But, the other person might feel that no crime had been done, as Shakespeare still had all his worldly goods intact and nothing was missing.
These two viewpoints have co-existed in relative disharmony throughout the centuries, through the times when symphony composers would put ink to parchment over a harpsichord, to when writers in top hats would have bound books made and gold-leafed, and then to when singers would have their voices on 78 RPM gramophone discs, and on to the era of the DJ on the pop radio station and listeners with a vinyl collection and/or two fingers placed over [record] and PLAY> , and into the computer era where downloads, mp3, ogg vorbis, and libraries of pop videos existing as computer files were as commonplace as a toaster.
Although the creative media have changed, the philosophies of the rights of the originator versus the acceptable or unacceptable acts of the copyist, remain.
Various attempts at making laws to define the rights and wrongs have generally made a mess of it over the years, and the behaviour of big corporations has made people think again about the ethics. Most people are happy to pay for a disc or a book as they recognise it's only fair that the author/composer/performer gets paid. But many people are a bit miffed at the "unfair" profiteering by some of the companies inbetween. If the shop got 25% and the company got 25%, leaving the creator with 50%, they wouldn't mind. But in truth the biggest slice goes to the corporation (who have probably bought the rights to the originator's works en-bloc), and the creator gets a few percent, that's all. Also, the rules are quite different for different types of creations. For example, books cease to be copyright 50 years after the death or the author. Hence, Gutenberg. Paintings remain in copyright forever and the copyright is held by whoever owns the original painting at the time. Inventions, well it's a nightmare. See patents. However, there is SOME good news as there is an easy and simple way for you to copyright something. See how to copyright your own works. The worst of all legislation about copyright and intellectual property was the notorious Mickey Mouse Act and the equally notorious DMCA Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It is generally regarded that the law was made up for and on behalf of the Disney corporation and damn everyone else. More about this and the misuse of the Berne Convention on the page "Another Problem with Copyright". As a result of the "moving the goalposts", some books which had previously been in the public domain were officially in copyright again in some countries, making a mockery of the whole thing.
Technical method and devices to safeguard intellectual property by preventing copying, there have been several over the years. However there is an elementary proof which shows these can never work. For example, if you can hear a vinyl record, you can record it on tape. (to see a typical "you can't copy this" tactic which is completely ineffective, see no right click). Also, most technical anti-piracy systems, as well as being worthless versus piracy, are actually a nuisance to new creators. When minidisc was still in fashion, I wanted to buy a minidisc machine so I could record natural sounds and play them back digitally into my computer to use on my own compositions of music. But no belt-pack minidisc unit had a digital output ("because of anti-piracy"). So, I'm hindered in making my own original music, but pirates can easily get away with bulk-copying of stuff. This is typical of the problems of "digital rights management" (digital rights mismanagement).
Another of the problems in the perception of copyright and intellectual property issues is: Extremists! People are sick of seeing those trailers of propaganda for the Federation Against Copyright Theft. Piracy destroys your enjoyment of the entertainment! And so on. The Fundamentalists also assert the notion that as seven pirate copies exist for every genuine one, those pirate copies all represent missed sales of the original. Or to put it another way, if piracy could be eliminated by some means, seven times as many originals would be sold. This is clearly silly. Most of the people who have a pirate copy of something would not buy the original, as they would be much more selective in their choices. Also, some pirates argue that the proliferation of pirate copies of stuff actually gives free advertising to the originator and so helps to sell more originals.
The truth is somewhere inbetween, and there has to be a balance.
Public opinion makes a huge difference, as most people can sympathise with the writer, author, composer, scriptwriter, movie-maker, etc, but people don't have a fondness for big corporations who seem to muscle-in on the market and misuse their privilege. Microsoft comes in for some of the worst criticism, and small companies who have been dawn raided by squads of copyright police sometimes take a somewhat anti-Microsoft stance, guess what?! Linux has an interestingly contrasting view, and Linux products are generally free to copy as you wish, provided you don't put any restrictions on the person in receipt of the copy. Another variant on the Free Open Source idea is the Creative Commons licence, which allows some give and take in the copyright and gives you the chance to draw up your own copyright terms. To see an example of this, see www.kaiserman.carandol.net and note the "Some Rights Reserved" logo at the bottom.
If you are a writer or other originator of creative works, you want to see fair play and be credited for what you do. You have to accept there is going to be some copying, but it has to be reasonable. Beware the cautionary tale of a heavy metal band who lost about 65% of their street cred (street credibility is one of a heavy metal band's most important assets!) because they were too hard on a copyright issue!
Further interesting ideas about intellectual property and copyright can be seen at Xyroth's Intellectual Property page where the matter of Trademarks™ are also examined.
When registering a legal trademark, it's proper to pay your lawyers and to have payments made via your lawyers to the official registration places. However, if you register a trademark, you will almost certainly receive some SCAM messages from bogus trademark registration bodies, sometimes impersonating the official trademark offices. Don't be fooled by them! Don't pay them any money. Also, read the small print. Some of these things say "This is NOT an invoice". OK, well if it's not, then This Is Not a Payment! Beware especially of letters from IBIP for €1537.10 as they are not genuine. A similar warning exists about scam letters to do with Domain Renewal
You can't trademark a number, as that would be silly. However, 32Red appear to have succeeded in trademarking the number 32, which raises some baffling questions! Could this get a lot of mathematicians in trouble?
Also see Zyra's shareware page, and the page of shareware inventions (unpatentable).
so you know the duration of copyright in materials is as
1. (c) in written dramatic and artistic works - i.e. stuff written or drawn including software, last life of the author plus 70 years.
2. Duration in the (c) of films is life of the director plus 70 years.
3. Duration of (c) in a broadcast is 50 years after first broadcast.
4. Duration of (c) in a performance is 50 years from when the performance takes place.
5. Duration of design right in something, i.e. not the written (c) format of something which is manufactured is only 10 years.
Another copyright and fair play issue has come up with the Yahoo problem. Someone at Yahoo has copied chunks of the truths section of Zyra's website, and Yahoo were hiding behind the evil Digital Millennium Copyright Act and were considered to have been profiteering out of silly splat advertising on pages of plagiarised material. There is a proper diplomatic way of dealing with unauthorised copying of stuff, but Yahoo had chosen the WRONG way to deal with it. So, that's why I had suggested we get rid of Yahoo! However, after a while Yahoo set up an office in London, and after some polite discussion with helpful people on the line, eventually a reasonable solution was reached. Such good sense is sharply in contrast to the corporate stupid zero tolerance notions which had gone on before! Now that this has at last been resolved properly, Yahoo has been forgiven!
In cases of dispute about misuse of copyrighted material it is usual to send a "Cease and Desist" message, so the culprit has been warned. It is only fair to ask someone to do the right thing before taking action against them. Some people don't do this; they send threatening demands regardless of what the other person does. To see a shocking case of this, see the problem with Getty Images
A few other relevant items associated with copyright include: The Linux open source movement, Creative Commons, Shareware and Shareware Inventions, and Image Source royalty-free graphics. Also see Fair Use of Original Copyright Material found at Zyra's Website!
Although you can copyright your works by this easy method, patenting an invention is much more difficult!
Also see How to Copyright your works as an easy method.
If you'd like to talk to an intellectual property rights lawyer, you could visit Elizabeth Ward (was www.elizabethward.co.uk), who has helped me before at this site! See Virtuoso Legal