1999 Conference Proceedings

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INTERNET/WWW COPYRIGHT RIP-OFFS: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW AND DO

Marcia J. Scherer, Ph.D., Director
Institute for Matching Person and Technology
486 Lake Road, Webster, New York 14580
716-671-3461 (phone/fax)
http://members.aol.com/IMPT97/MPT.html

The Internet and WWW have become key resources for finding all kinds of information. While containing a mix of high quality sites, they have also become the modern-day concrete walls for graffiti lovers. Anyone can put up a Web site or homepage. This freedom of expression and access is both laudable and unprecedented. Regulations affecting other forms of communication (TV, radio, newsprint, etc.) right now do not apply, or have not been applied, to the Internet/WWW. In many respects, it is precisely this freedom that makes the Web and Internet so information-rich and appealing.

Unfortunately, freedom of expression has in some cases resulted in outright plagiarism. For example, I encountered a course paper written by a graduate student posted on the Web as original work that was a compendium of material from well-known sources. It was a good paper and likely resulted in a high grade. The student undoubtedly attributed the information contained within the paper to the proper sources and included a bibliography or list of references when it was a course paper turned in for credit. Yet, the student posted it on the Web without any citations. That put me in a dilemma. We educators like to see students enthusiastic about their fields of study and their work. Yet, I knew that this student, perhaps unwittingly, had taken copyrighted material and promoted it as his own work on the Web. This is plagiarism.

I asked several colleagues in education and private industry for advice on what to do about this situation. The agreed-upon solution was to send an email to the student and his dean and department chair pointing out the issue. I framed it in terms of the student probably being unaware of the tremendous importance of crediting sources of borrowed material when publishing via the Web. The reaction was swift - as it should have been. The page was pulled immediately.

We have information in this field that is highly desired by other persons. We need to both protect our work and be vigilant to the protection of the works of our colleagues. If we take the time and spend $20.00 to register our materials with the U.S. Copyright Office, then we are on solid ground for backing up our claim to authorship.

A "DERIVATIVE WORK" IS BASED ON ONE OR MORE PREEXISTING WORKS. The following is a statement that can be used when contacting persons or organizations that are promoting materials without citation or the permission of the copyright holder either in print or electronically:

As the holder of a registered claim on (insert title of work) with the U.S. Copyright Office, this letter serves as notice that one of the exclusive rights of registered copyright holders is the creation and/or authorization of derivative works (Section 106 of the U.S. Copyright law, subsection 2). The copyright holder (insert name of copyright holder), has authorized no derivative works. Therefore, persons violating the copyright holder's intellectual property rights are subject to legal action; copyright holders who win such cases may be entitled to statutory damages and attorney's fees. Furthermore, the U.S. is a member of an international agreement regarding the protection of copyright and intellectual property.

The Internet/WWW are wonderful repositories of data and information. Yet, we need to trust that what we get is reliable and accurate. While I find government regulation of the Internet/WWW highly undesirable, it will happen if we are careless and do not exercise good judgment in what we publish via these media. It behooves us all to be alert to copyright violations in what we read on the Internet/Web and to be "professionally rigorous" in what we put up and publish on the Internet/Web.


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