Copyright infringement is indeed a broad area. Although the law is specific in what protections are due copyright owners, there is still much confusion among internet users regarding what constitutes infringement. The internet is plagued with copyright issues more commonly associated with the distribution of movies, music and software. Copying actual articles and website material has become more rampant as well, but cases that have reached the courts generally have done so because larger companies can easily sue over their copyrights. Additionally, music, movies and software are top commodities, items that can be expensive and are very attractive to the public. With faster internet connections and newer programs that facilitate possession, copyright infringement is everywhere.
Another serious problem with the internet is the public domain issue. Before the internet, people were more apt to honor copyright laws because material was tangible, such as a book, and it was difficult to distribute. No-one was really interested in photocopying a whole book and handing it out to others. But today, there are incentives to copying and distributing books, as one can make money from various sources for having information on a website. Further, someone who owned a band's record might copy a few cassettes for friends, but it was not wide-scale copying and distribution. Nowadays, millions of people have instant access to copyrighted material. Moreover, because it is readily available, many feel it is there for the taking. It wouldn't be there if it was illegal to use, right? Lastly, if everyone else is downloading music or watching movies, why shouldn't I? Unquestionably, all of these mentalities only promote and expand the copyright infringement dilemma.
The specific rights that one is granted with copyrighted material are:
- the right to reproduce the work in other forms such as music on records, cassettes, CDs, and online downloads
- the right to create derivatives, that is to change the piece or have it rewritten
- the right to distribute the material to the public and the right to decide how it is distributed whether pay-per-use, licensing, exclusive agreements
- and the right to perform the work in a public arena such as plays being used as the basis for movies
Anyone who has not received permission to complete any of these acts is in violation of copyright law and can be sued or charge criminally with copyright infringement. It should be noted, however, that not all people start out to willfully deceive, and do not necessarily mean to commit crimes. For example fan sites. Someone builds a website talking about a band or movie. People love the site and come back looking for more. The website owner needs to maintain interest and gets caught up in the fury of the moment and starts uploading snippets of songs for the enjoyment of the fans. By the end of the year, the website owner has effectively created a substantial database of music. Now the questions begin.
Is the website owner liable for copyright infringement since he could not create that database without the band's music? Or, does the database constitute proprietary material owned by the website creator? Under the law, the answer is quite simple. Permission was not granted to use the music and thus, the owner is guilty of copyright infringement. But in reality depending on the opinions of the band members and their handlers, they may choose to ignore the actions especially if they feel that the website is helping them. On the other hand, if they believe they have lost revenues, they will sue, as it is their right.
Finally, copyright holders need to ask themselves the question - Is copyright infringement always bad? That is not to say that we are promoting copyright infringement. It is illegal whether done unknowingly or willfully. But for some, having others promote their material has actually helped them to become more popular in a faster time frame. And indeed, they might view these websites in a positive manner rather than negatively.