What Copyright Means

 
Copyright law means that the copyright holder owns the rights to the words they used, and anyone else who uses them can be sued for insanely large amounts of money, or prosecuted and sent to prison for a felony.  The legal way to use the material on this website is to provide the web address for the website itself.  It is not legal to just copy the text onto some other website or listserver or group, or even to email it to friends.

There are some urban legends going around the internet about how copyrights work that if followed can lead to civil and criminal liability.  Relying on some or other web page that cites the copyright statute and says it means you can reproduce copyrighted materials if you don’t make money will subject you to sanctions for wilful violation of the law, which includes treble damages PLUS attorney’s fees.  The damages are how much money the copyright holder says they lost because of what you did – you can end up paying millions and millions of dollars even if you didn’t make a dime.  You can also end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to the copyright holder even if the court decides damages are only  a few dollars.

In addition to this, you could be investigated by the FBI, prosecuted by the justice department, convicted of a felony and sent to prison for 5 years and get a $250,000 fine.  Then when you get out you can’t travel outside your home country and will have a hard time getting a job.

Recent instances of people not realizing that the law applied to them include the Minnesota woman who has to pay $1,920,000 for file sharing songs, the Swedish website operators who will go to prison for letting people share songs online, the German company fined $34,000,000 for copyrighted material on its web hosting service it wasn’t even aware of, and the many many people languishing in federal prison for pirating popular DVD’s.

The bad news is that you can not cut and paste material from this website beyond ‘fair use,’ and if you want to understand what exactly fair use is under the law you need to draw a legal conclusion based on studying and understanding case law which is best done by retaining an attorney to do this for you.  That can cost several thousand dollars, but is cheap compared to what could happen otherwise.  Failing to get that legal opinion would almost certainly result in a court deciding you did not act in good faith and the copyright violation was wilful.  Simply reading the copyright law without analyzing actual cases has long since been ruled inadequate by the courts.

The good news is that you can post a link to any page on this site anyplace you want, any time you want, and there is no copyright question.  You don’t have to cut and paste and put yourself at legal risk.  Just provide a hotlink or web address (URL) to anything you want to discuss on the net and you’re legal and safe!

© 2008 Andrew Hall Cutler, PhD PE