Copyrights and Patents
In the US Constitution (Article 1, section 8, cl. 8), Congress is granted
the authority to "promote the Progress of
Science and Useful Art, by securing for limited Times to Authors and
Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and
- Copyrights apply to creative expressions when fixed in a "tangible
- Facts, ideas, and concepts are not subject to copyright.
- Copyright specifically protects the right to:
- attribution and integrity
- distribution, display or conduct
- Copyright law has been amended many times over the years and other
changes are under discussion. Note:
- Copyright Act of 1976 (applies after 1978)
- 1989 Berne Convention-International copyright agreement
- 1980 Computer Software Copyright Act
- 1997 Web Copyright Law (12/16/97) An infringement of property
valued at least $1000 may be prosecuted even if the violator does not
profit from the crime. Penalties range from $100,000-$250,000.
For infringements against properties >$2,500 a jail term of up to 3 years
may be imposed. A second offense may result in a jail term of up to 6
- The 199? Digital Copyright Clarification and Technology Education Act,
S.1146 and Digital Era Copyright Enhancement Act, HR 3048 are still
pending in Congress. These bills, if enacted, would assign "fair use"
to qualifying electronic materials.
- The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was signed into law
September, of 1998. On line service providers are under obligation
to enforce copyright laws by terminating services to repeat offenders
and by removing materials that infringe copyrights. They also must
not benefit from infringements
This act also makes it illegal to develop or sell devices or technologies
that would circumvent encryption or digital watermarks intended to protect
intellectual property. Exceptions are made for computer security
research and cryptography.
- Under today's laws, a copyright symbol © is not required to
protect a copyright (but may help prove copyright). Note that some
countries don't recognize a copyright without the symbol.
- For works copyrighted after 1977, a copyright is valid for the
life of the author plus 70 years. Attribution and integrity rights only
apply during the author's lifetime. For anonymous works or works for
hire, the period may be up to 120 years depending on the date of
- Fair Use doctrine: For research and educational purposes one may copy
less than 2500 words of an article or 1000 words or
up to 10% (whichever is less) or a single chapter of a longer work (one
- Copyright infringement may be prosecuted as a civil matter
or may be considered a felony under federal law. The statute of
limitations is 3 years.
- See: FBI
Economic Crimes Unit for statistics on product counterfeiting.
- Read contracts carefully! Your copyright may be assigned to
your employer. Work you do for a company may also be considered
"work for hire" in which case the copyright belongs to the company.
- Compilation Copyright-the moderator of an on-line group may hold a
- Backups do not infringe copyright.
- Digital watermarks are hidden codes that can provide proof
of ownership (see CACM, 41.7, 1998, 31ff). One way of doing this is to
use a secret encryption key to hide the "watermark". A public key can
then be used to extract the watermark.
- Patents protect inventions, processes, and algorithms
- After GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), patents
apply for 20 years.
- To qualify for a patent, an invention must satisfy certain criteria:
- It must be useful
- It must be non-obvious (relative to "prior art" in the field)
- It must be new, not previously invented
- It must be original (not invented by someone else)
For more information on copyrights and patents, see these pages:
NOLO web page
US Patent and Trademark Office
Library of Congress Copyright
Fair Use Doctrine
Copyright Law in the Electronic Environment, by Georgia Harper
C|net Page on Copyright Law
USC Title 17,
ch. 3, Duration of Copyrights
Copyright Resource Page
For an interesting plan to handle intellectual property
in the future, see
Ted Nelson's work.
Disclaimer: The notes here were not prepared by an attorney.
Anyone with serious copyright or patent questions should seek
appropriate legal counsel.