Copyright law can be confusing. Here are several common myths about copyright to help you sort out fact from fiction.a. If it doesn’t have a copyright notice, it is not copyrightedSort of. After April of 1989, the US dropped the requirement to need a copyright notice to have copyright protection. Items prior to April of 1989 without a copyright notice may have lost protection but it is a very gray area as the Copyright Office allowed for corrections after publication In general, when seeking public domain products, it is best to stay away from gray areas as there is lots more material out there than you can ever use.b. If I don’t charge for it, I’m not violating the copyrightCharging for an item is not a requirement for copyright. I can give away something for free and it is still protected by copyright. And if you choose to give away my works for free, you are committing copyright violation unless I specifically gave you permission to do this.c. If it is posted on the internet/Usenet, it is in the public domainNever assume that something posted on the internet is in the public domain. Any newer creations – including posts – are protected by copyright.d. My use of the materials falls under “fair use”e. If you don’t defend your copyright, you lose its protectionsFalse. The law does not require you to defend your copyright to keep it intact.f. If I create my own works based on already published works, I can copyright them.Copyright law is very explicit about something called derivative works. If you wish to create a new work based on a prior author’s “universe”, you need to get permission.g. Copyright violation is a small thing and if I get caught, nothing will happen to meNot so. If you end up going to court, there can be very heavy monetary and jail time for copyright violation. Plus the cost of defending yourself will also be quite high.h. Using someone else’s copyrighted materials is just free advertising for the copyright owner.That is not your decision to make. If you want to use someone else’s copyrighted work, no matter the reason, get their permission. The only exception is “fair use” which is allowed under certain very specific circumstances – like an attributed quote.i. Someone emailed me the materials so I can use them.False. Just because someone else emailed you something does not mean that person had the right to do that.j. This is a government work so it is copyright free.Sometimes true. All US government work paid for and created by US government employees is in the public domain (but it may have some restrictions – like it is classified or is a government seal.) Works by quasi government entities are copyrighted however. For instance, works by the Smithsonian Institution do claim copyright to their works. Also state governments often claim copyright to their works.
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