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Published:January 1st, 2012 12:16 EST
21st Century Digital Theft and Copyright Violations

21st Century Digital Theft and Copyright Violations

By Sophie Akinyi

Technological advancements have turned the world into a global village where geographical barriers are easily beaten by a mouse`s click. With these new technological changes, so have people adopted new techniques. One important aspect that has taken a new turn is Copyrighting.

Copyrighting can be simply defined as the legal process of protecting one`s original works of authorship. Most people tend to confuse copyright with patent; the difference is that copyright deals with works of authorship while a patent protects inventions or discoveries.

The later are not covered under copyright law, but the manner in which they are expressed may be. Those who wish to copyright their work have to ensure that whatever they are presenting is something new and original, otherwise it will be discredited. Copyrighting can be done by an individual and/even a state. Since violation of people`s copyrights carry serious penalties, it is advisable for individuals to be extra careful before using another person`s work. Many people have their works copyrighted due to the increasing number of infringers. Something that takes us to another term- Plagiarism.

Plagiarism refers to usage of someone else`s ideas or words (without attribution) as if they are your own. During 19th century, the symbol © was quite common in depicting the brain behind certain ideologies.

However, with the coming of computers, usage of the trademark symbol © has drastically gone down. It is still in use though especially among individuals who do not have their work online. This has in some way increased the number of infringers who have shifted to digital plagiarism.

Here they might argue they were unaware that work was copyrighted forgetting that ignorance is no defense. They therefore still land on the wrong side of the law. The rate at which online `theft` is growing is raising serious concerns. The most common one is academic plagiarism. This involves students lifting other people`s work from the net and presenting it to their lecturers without proper citation. Some copy the whole article and present it as an original piece; this is called absolute plagiarism.

On the other hand, some students pick few points and build on them, while another bunch pick points from different sources and link them together to form a consistent piece. This is what is termed patch work plagiarism.

The final group is called Lazy plagiarism. Just as it is called so are it`s "lovers`. Infringers under this category copy other people`s work and paste it as their own. Many a times they still carry links to the sources where they were lifted from. In the case of academic plagiarism, the school management always deals with students.

For instance in Kenya, Tangaza College, a constituent of Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) is using SPSS to determine originality of their student`s work. It works under the principle of online assignment submission. Photos can be copyrighted by imprinting a watermark on them. Other forms of plagiarism touching on written materials, individuals, video and image may however land an infringer in jail. If this does not apply, someone may have to part with some reasonable amount of money.

For instance a willful infringer is charged

·          150,000 while those who are unaware part with 200. This depends on which state one has committed the crime in as in some states plagiarism is a serious crime. This may also cost one his/her job. Not all material is however copyrighted. Individuals are at liberty to use materials found in public domain as long as they give the right attribution. These are basically works that have not been copyrighted. They are inclusive of those whose expiry dates have not been renewed.

·          Three things that can be freely cited include names, ideas (as they may be same but presented differently, titles such as Sir/Madam and facts as they don`t change. Government particulars are also at the public`s disposal and they are at liberty to use and distribute them. Since infringement causes animosity between the original owner and the other party involved, it is important for individuals to avoid it by: using of public domain whose content is free as long as one gives an appropriate citation.

·          Individuals may also get copyrighted materials at some reasonable fee. To be safer than sorry, it is advisable for one to contact a lawyer who has specialized in this area before using and/or reproducing someone else`s work.

·          In my opinion to individuals who wish to produce and copyright their work is that they should keep their work a secret before patenting; there is a new form of plagiarism where ideas are stolen before getting to the public eye. This poses a tricky arena where it will be hard proving the original founder of the idea if the infringer copyrights it first.

While there are certain myths surrounding copyright, what each person needs to know is: Almost everything is copyrighted the moment it is written, and no copyright notice is required.

Copyright is still violated whether you charged money or not, only damages are affected by that.

Postings to the net are not granted to the public domain, and don`t grant you any permission to do further copying except perhaps the sort of copying the poster might have expected in the ordinary flow of the net.

Fair use is a complex doctrine meant to allow certain valuable social purposes. Ask yourself why you are republishing what you are posting and why you couldn`t have just rewritten it in your own words.

Copyright is not lost because you don`t defend it; that`s a concept from trademark law. The ownership of names is also from trademark law, so don`t say somebody has a name copyrighted.

Fan fiction and other work derived from copyrighted works is a copyright violation.

Copyright law is mostly civil law where the special rights of criminal defendants you hear so much about don`t apply. Watch out, however, as new laws are moving copyright violation into the criminal realm.

Don`t rationalize that you are helping the copyright holder; often it`s not that hard to ask permission.

Posting E-mail is technically a violation, but revealing facts from E-mail you got isn`t, and for almost all typical E-mail, nobody could wring any damages from you for posting it. The law doesn`t do much to protect works with no commercial value.