5 Myths About Copyright That Must Be Busted


We have talked about what copyright is and how it work  in one of our earlier posts. Although the idea of protecting a creator’s right seems straightforward, when it comes to observing copyright laws in practice, we fall prey to several myths.

Let’s look at, and bust, five popular copyright myths.

Myth 1: Publicly available means Public domain

When people find an article, or a photograph, available online, they often do not think twice about downloading or reusing it. It is public, right? Right?

Wrong! It is publicly available. It doesn’t mean it is in public domain. It is still protected by the copyright. You can’t just download stuff off Internet and use them. Unless their copyright terms has expired, or the copyright owner has explicitly put it in public domain, you must use it only according to the terms of the site it is hosted on, or the license it is released under. If no information is available, you should assume “all rights reserved”. That is you can’t use it without explicitly getting permission from the copyright owner.

This post that you are reading is protected by copyright even if it is available to the public! And only once the copyright has run out, does it become Public Domain. We have not put it in public domain explicitly. Please feel free to use the information you find here and share it with others, but remember to credit the source! And don’t copy the entire content. Follow the “fair use policy”. And look around the next time you download a photograph off Internet to use it in your book, or website. Is it really allowed?

Myth 2: If you are not making money from it, you can copy anything

So you must write a document for work, or a training course for your church, weight-loss group, or Brad Pitt fan-club. This document will be handed out for free. Does this mean you can just “copy and paste” from other sources?

No, you may not! Unless the license of the work allows its use, you cannot copy it even for a work that is making you no money, or one which if for public good, or for charity.

Myth 3: Credit the source, and you are safe copying it!

Some people will tell you that if you just credit the source then everything is well. That’s not true.

Copyright law does not allow you to do this. Is this not a bit like writing on a stolen computer or cellphone: This was stolen from …… Telephone….. and the rest of the real owner’s details? Does it make stealing correct?

Even to copy content with credit, you have stick to the “fair use policy”. This policy sets limits on how, how much of, and why some content may be copied and used. You will have to find out what your country’s laws say about this. It varies across jurisdiction and in some cases may not be very clearly defined.

One guideline that you often see for books is that the quoted text may not exceed more than 10% of the total work in which it will appear. (And even then you must credit the source!)

Myth 4: Registering copyright automatically provides comprehensive protection

It doesn’t! Governments do not have copyright Police. There is no NCBIS, Naval Copyright Breach Investigative Service. Even if you have registered the copyright (which by the way is not a requirement for protection under copyright law in most countries), nobody is keeping track of whether your work is being plagiarised or not. You have to do that yourself. And if you detect a foul play, you also have to take the necessary legal steps to protect your copyright. This usually involves sending a notice to the violator and civil court procedures. Registering copyright usually only helps you in getting the case admitted. The court may still rule against you, if the other person is able to provide evidence that he is the real owner of copyright.

Myth 5: Having a ISBN means that you have Copyright

A surprisingly large number of people believe that once your book has received an International Standard Book Number, ISBN, it will be protected by copyright.

Repeat after us – copyright and ISBN are not related at all!

Allow us, to tell you what ISBN is. It is, hold your breath, a unique number used to identify a book. So, you can say it is like the identity number of your book.

Think about it.  Even if a person does not have an ID number, you may not murder, kidnap or abuse them.  In the same way, just because your book does not have an ISBN, it does not mean that it does not qualify for legal copyright protection.

Looking at it the other way, just because a person has an identity number, it does not mean that he will be absolved of any crimes he committed. Similarly, your book having an ISBN does not prove that the copyright belongs to you. If someone challenges it, you will have to take the legal route to prove that you are indeed the copyright owner. ISBN won’t help there.

Besides, ISBN is only for books. Copyright protects all creative expressions; even the articles on this blog, photographs people post on facebook and music that a professional or an amateur creates. So, the idea of ISBN and copyright having any connection is absurd.

In Conclusion

Copyright is important to understand for protecting your own content as well as for respecting other people’s copyright. Busting of these myths should help you avoid common mistakes people make, often unknowingly, and also explain it to your detractors!

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