Sunday, 29 November 2015

Implications of Copyright Norms for Netizens of the 21st Century

The fruits of the internet have are there for all to see. The ease with which we make commercial transactions, the ease with which we send messages, publish books, research ideas, collaborate with others for school projects, send assignments online to our teachers so that they can be assessed as first drafts, the list can go on and on. However, those who work on the internet a lot will have come across the terms: Plagiarism, Copyright,Cyber-Bullying, and Plagiarism. These terms have begun to take hold of the imagination of a lot of people these days.
Copyright: A term that has been much discussed and pondered upon, Copyright refers to the owning of the right to give and deny permission to people to use ones discoveries, inventions, ideas, and processes. When I submitted my photograph  to my publisher so that it could be put into my book, there was query from my publisher asking me if I had the Copyright to my own photograph ( Apparently, the photograph that had been taken by my brother looked too professional). I was then told that if the photograph had been taken by a professional, then I would have to take a permission from him to put it in my book; apparently, I would not own a copyright to my own photograph if it had been taken by a professional who had not given me  a written permission to use it in a way that I wanted to! I was taken aback by the mail, but then my publishing assistant went on to add that if the photograph had been taken by a close relative and I gave an undertaking to that effect, it would be OK, and they could proceed with the manuscript. I sent an undertaking and things were alright!
Using another person's intellectual property, (photographs, ideas, thoughts, descriptions, research papers, descoveries, and works of art) without any permission, citing of the source and attribution of the borrowed work can be termed a crime. Plagiarism as the crime may be termed, entails infringment of copyright norms. So the next time before you do a copy paste of a research paper, or you borrow a photograph, remember to take permission from the writer of the research paper or the owner of copyright to the photograph! Similarly, when you take out your smart phone for  that candid snap that might win you accolades, remember to take permission from the stranger around you. The ease of access and ease of sharing of online material (made possible by the internet) doesn't give you the right to borrow, share and incorporate other people's work into your work!
Today when I upload photographs through the internet on various photography sites, I either put a copyright mark followed by my name with the hope that it would not be plagiarised or stolen by someone else. Another safety measure is to enter the copyright information in the camera itself so that the EXIFF information about the photograph states that you own the Copyright to the photograph. Alternately, you could also enter the Copyright details through the laptop itself. A third alternative is to compress the photograph to such a low resolution that it is of no use to the the person who wants to appropriate it without even asking for permission to use it!
A proper Copyright however needs to be registered in a court of law. Since America is probably the only country that has extensive Copyright laws, most people, writers, inventors and scientists register their copyrights in a U.S. Federal Court of Law! A lot of books state in the first few books that the copyright to the book belongs to the writer himself. Publishers will do this gratis for the author even if it means that the author doesn’t subsequently register the Copyright in a court. In many cases where the statement that the author of the book owns the Copyright or the Photographer owns the Copyright to the photograph, the precedence of usage, and the date of uploading the matter on the internet could mean that the rightful  copyright owner of the book or photograph might have grounds to fight the case in a court of law. In many cases, infringement of intellectual property rights are fought in courts to earn a hefty amount of compensation. Things become easier when the copyright is registered properly. In such a case, anyone who wants to use your photograph will have to ask for permission from you to use the photograph or matter from your book, alternately you might accede to the request after receiving an offer for monetary compensation. Unfortunately, sharing of photographs and written material on Social Networking Sites weakens the case for infringement of Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights because it might be argued by the person who has used your photograph, his counsel and the judge, that sharing of material on a public forum, like a social networking site  is meant to be shared and used by the public, and therefore doesn’t entitle the plaintiff to seek redress from the court. Sometimes, if it is proved in a court of law that the intention of the person who had taken your photograph was not bad, not meant to make money out your photograph, the perpetrator might be let off with a warning.
Within accepted limits however, a person might use your ideas, and quote your paragraphs as long as it does not exceed a certain per cent of his written matter. This reminds me about a case that took place in a college in America where a student was disqualified for plagiarism and was sent packing to his native country. In many cases, the citing of the source, and attribution of a work to it rightful owner or creator might exonerate the borrower from the crime of plagiarism or infringement of Copyright Norms. In days where a lot of research work is available on the internet, and when students are encouraged to research on the internet, and collaborate with students on the other side of the globe, it has become even more difficult to protect intellectual property rights.
The concept of Copyright has varying social and cultural implications in various countries, as for example the case where a photography enthusiast wants to take photographs in a busy street or a public place. In a country like India, it is OK to take photographs of adults and children, but in a country like England, or America, you would need to take the permission of  the adult, to take a photograph. As far as taking the photograph of children is concerned, you have to be be very careful, they are not your own children, then you need the consent of the accompanying adult! The ease with which photographs can be shared through the internet has indeed become a concern for a lot of people whose photographs might appear in what they think are objectionable advertisements! What it your photograph appeared in a photograph for underwear? While chances are slim, this does not rule out the possibility of this from happening. In the matter of photographs however, Copyright rules are not very clear. Copyright rules do not prevent the taking of photographs of strangers in the street, nor the taking of photographs of children. One of the few ways to fight such a case is that there has been  misuse of one’s photographs is on the grounds of decency and that it is likely to cause the individual mental trauma and social stigma!
A few years back I was surprised to see a photograph that I had taken of a sunset on a web-site that dealt with the marketing of tailor made services. I had uploaded that photograph on a website that hosted photographs from contributing members. I let it go at that time because I really did not have the time to enter into a spat with the person or persons who had taken my photograph without even a request. A simple request for permission would have sufficed in that case. Decency lies in attributing an original work of art to its rightful owner or maker. In many cases, well known celebrities have fought cases in courts of law where their photographs were used in advertisements and packaging of products without their permission. Such cases have been landmark cases, cases where the litigant might have proved in the court of law that there had been an infringement of his or her right to privacy!No wonder therefore, that photographers blacken or erase licence plate numbers of vehicles, or they blur the faces of pedestrians or while taking photographs in the street of landmarks or even portraits of people who have asked for photographs to be taken of them.

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