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Copyright and the Law

Most people on the internet believe that everything they see can be downloaded and copied.  However, content on the internet can be protected by copyright just as much as material found in the library or the bookstore.  There are three elements that must be satisfied in order for something on the internet to be copyright eligible.  First, there must be collection and assembly of pre-existing material, facts, or data.  Second, courts look at the selection, coordination, or arrangement of those materials.  Finally, the courts analyze the creation of the particular selection, coordination, or arrangement of an original work of authorship.   Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service.  As long as these three elements are satisfied, copyright law will protect the work on the internet.

Copyright infringement is triggered by the unauthorized copying, publishing, performing, displaying in public, or revising copyright protected materials.  A PC makes copies any time a person uses the internet in a variety of ways.  One way copies are made is by viewing website pages on the internet because your PC will save the page in the Random Access Memory (RAM) of the PC.  Furthermore, a PC will also make copies so that the user can return to the site faster.  Technically, an internet user is infringing copyright law any time they visit a website.  However, internet users are protected because of implied consent.  When someone posts information on the internet they are expecting people to use their website.  The creator of the website knows that a PC will make copies of the websites information and store it onto the computer and they are granting implied consent to those who wish to view their content.  Downloading on the internet is also a form of copying.  Downloading from the internet is the same as copying words out of a book from the library.  However, downloading information from the internet is sometimes protected by the Fair Use Doctrine.  The Fair Use Doctrine is used as a defense to copyright infringement.  The four factors to determine when to apply the Fair Use defense by the court are the purpose and character of the use, nature of the use, amount of the work taken, and the market effects.  Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios.  Most websites will usually state if their content is downloadable or not.  If the website grants downloading capabilities then a user may download the content without infringing the websites copyright.

File sharing among students in college is one of the most glaring copyright infringements that occur.  Students are often sharing music, movies, and software.  Students who use the University’s internet for illegally downloading or sharing movies or music open themselves up to legal action.  Lawsuits that are brought against students can result in the loss of thousands of dollars, being charged with criminal violations, or even serving prison time.  At Washington State University, students that are caught engaging in this form of copyright infringement are required to take a class in copyright and will lose internet privileges.

All in all, as the world becomes more digitalized copyright infringement will only increase.  Because technology is so new most people don’t understand the repercussions that can come from simply using the technology itself.  It is imperative the Supreme Court keeps up with the constantly growing technology so that people can understand what is and what is not allowed on the internet.


Jim Barbiere