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Copyright: It's Important

    Many of us think of copyright laws in terms of inconvenience: It is such a hassle to get permission to copy a work, and it gets expensive to purchase the materials I want - especially for educational purposes - so why don't I just copy (either on a machine or on a website) the work and hope no one notices? 

There are several things wrong with that thinking, but let's focus on the two main purposes of copyright law:
  1. Copyright law exists to protect the creator of content from harm. 'But what harm is there in making copies? It's not like I stole something!" But you did steal something. You are using something that belongs to someone else without permission. If that person is relying on income from the sale of that property, then you have stolen the value of the property on the market. For example, if a book costs $10.00, and you make 20 copies for your class, you have just stolen $200.00 in sales from the owner of the book's copyright. Copyright law exists to protect the creator of the content from that kind of harm.
  2. Copyright law exists to benefit the public. By protecting the creator of content, the law provides an incentive to create, and the increased factual and creative content benefits the public. Obviously, not getting paid for created content will not stop people from creating, but it will stifle creation and creativity in various ways. If I am able to make a living from content creation, then I can spend more time producing content, and that will benefit both me and the people who use my product. If I have to make a living doing something else, that restricts - sometimes severely - the time I am able to devote to producing content. We all lose because creativity and creation are stifled. This I know from personal experience. I have produced materials that I am making available to others, some of it for free and some of it for sale, but because I make my living teaching in a public high school, I have a more limited amount of time in which to create content and manage its production, sale, and distribution. Right now there are at least three books that I want to finish, but I am able to spend only a little bit of time on them each week. Copyright gives me the incentive to keep working on them because some day I will be able to market them and decrease my reliance on a different means of making a living.
    Below are some links to information about copyright for both content creators and content users.
  • Using Images from the web: a guide to "Fair Use" - This is an excellent article on copyright and "Fair Use". While it focuses on the use of images (photographs, graphics, infographics, drawings, etc.), it is applicable to all intellectual property.
  • Creative Commons - Many content creators are willing, even eager, to share content for free, but they don't want to lose their copyright in doing so. Creative Commons is an organization that helps with that by licensing content under various conditions. The website walks you through the process for determining which license is appropriate. For example, you can set terms such as
    • BY - Attribution: people are free to use your work but must attribute it to you as the author;
    • SA - Share Alike: people who distribute your work or create a new product based on your work must share it in the same way you shared with them;
    • ND - No Derivatives: people are not permitted to alter or create a new product based on your work, except as allowed by existing copyright law (e.g. parody);
    • NC - Non-Commercial: people are not permitted to make money from your work but may freely copy and distribute it for non-commercial purposes, such as education (e.g. in a classroom setting).
  • GNU General Public License - GNU is a license designed primarily for software but applicable to other intellectual property. Their website explains the licensing and how to use it.