In the United States, anyone who creates something in a fixed medium is automatically entitled to copyright protection. While the laws pertaining to copyright and intellectual property are nuanced and complex, the underlying principle is based on the idea that individuals have a right to ownership of their own creative work. Just as physical property has defined ownership and a bundle of rights and responsibilities that accompany such ownership, so too do the creative expression of ideas. We know that stealing someone else's physical property is wrong. In the case of copyright, the "property" is in the formation of ideas, and using it without permission or giving the creator credit for the work is essentially stealing it, or committing plagiarism.
It is commonplace in our society for certain individuals and institutions to earn their profit by way of their ideas or intellectual property; for these people, there is a very real and detrimental economic impact that may be felt if others do not properly observe the creator's right to ownership. The advent of newer technologies, mediums, and ways of transmitting and accessing information and knowledge has changed dramatically in the past two decades. These advances have tested the boundaries of copyright law, and one result has been the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 to extend reach of copyright law into the digital age.
Although educational institutions have some allowances for using copyrighted material under the "Fair Use" doctrine, schools are responsible for observing copyright law, and may be held liable or sued for copyright infringement. The penalties for copyright infringement can be severe, often including large financial damages that must be paid to the copyright owner. Additionally, these types of stories are regularly publicized as warnings to others, and one consequence is that the hard-earned reputation of an individual or business can be irreparably tarnished.
Education is about acquiring knowledge, which may then be applied in any number of ways. Those of us involved in the business of education, whether administrators, faculty, staff, or students, concern ourselves with knowledge and ideas every day. Isothermal Community College addresses intellectual property in Policy No: 306-02-09BP, stating, "Isothermal Community College in its effort to improve life through learning encourages the development of intellectual property which may enhance the learning process or environment." It is the responsibility of all employees and students at Isothermal Community College to understand and respect the ethical, economic, and educational aspects of intellectual property and copyright, and play an active role in modeling correct behavior when using other people's copyrighted material.
Continue to Copyright Basics to learn more about copyright and copyright compliance.
This document is not legal advice. It is intended to provide general information regarding copyright and is provided on an "as-is, as available, and with all faults" basis. Consult a qualified attorney for proper legal advice when necessary. Comments, questions, or corrections should be submitted to Charles P. Wiggins, Director of Library Services.