Many myths abound about copyright, especially as to how copyright pertains to the Internet. Some of the more prevalent myths -- urban legends -- are given below.
Myth #1: If there is no copyright symbol or statement the material may be freely copied, used and disseminated. After all, the Internet exists in order to provide materials that can be freely copied and freely disseminated without any concern about ownership or copyright implications.
Fact: The lack of a copyright symbol or other statement of ownership does not mean that copyright is not applicable. Copyright is automatic if two stipulations apply: 1.) the work is an original work of authorship and, 2.) the work is fixed in a tangible form.
There are many academic, institutional and educational sites that post their materials to the Internet for your use for free. By placing their materials on the Internet two things probably occur. The first is that there just might be an implicit license granted to the user to copy the material and secondly, you might have implicit permission to distribute that material to others as well. This might just be the opposite with commercial sites, however.
Myth #2: With the widespread availability of software on the Internet, we don't need to purchase software anymore. We can dowload anything we need for free!
Fact: The Internet contains a vast variety of computer programs. Some are free, some are trial versions, some are called "shareware [try now, pay later]," some are in the public domain, while other computer programs are available for online purchase. That being said, there are many instances in which copies of commercial software have been placed illegally on the Internet for distribution. The No Electronic Theft Act [NET] has been passed by Congress to counter this type of illegal distribution. The NET makes this type of illegal copying a criminal offense.
Use caution when downloading software. Besides the possibility of obtaining an illegal copy, some rascally individuals like to attach software viruses to these programs.
Myth #3: All information on the Internet is free.
Fact: Though the Internet provides a wealth of free information, many sources -- such as databases -- are only available through subscription or pay per use. Furthermore, there are hidden costs associated with the Internet. On one side is the need for a computer, an Internet service provider, and a means [usually through a modem] of communicating with that provider. On the other side, someone needs to scan or make the information available for use on the Internet, a means of storage is necessary along with a connection with an Internet service provider as well.
Myth #4: So I put some commercial software on my Internet site for others to use. I'm not charging for it so it's not a violation. What's the harm?
Fact: Giving away software through the Internet is an infringement. Whether you charge or not only affects the amount of damages that will be awarded to the copyright owner. Heavy damages have been awarded when the commercial value of the copyrighted property has been hurt.
Myth #5: What I posted on the Internet is simply fair use!
Fact: Fair use is defined in The Copyright Law of the United States of America, Title 17, Sec. 107. The four factors of fair use must be met. Part of the privilege of fair use is using the material in certain, proscribed ways. The following uses of copyrighted works can be made without the permission of the rights holder:
• news reporting
Fair use more often than not is a short excerpt. Regardless, the copyright owner is always attributed.
Myth #6: What's the big deal in putting this stuff on the Internet? It doesn't hurt anybody and anyhow, it's free advertising for them!
Fact: Actually, it's up to the owner of the intellectual property to decide this. It is really the owner's choice to decide whether they want your type of advertising or not. It's not prudent to rationalize whether or not it harms the owner of the material(s). It is best to ask them!
If you are linking to or using materials from a commercial site, you might very well be infringing on their trademark. A very serious, potential liability.
It is best to assume that all materials are copyrighted the moment they are put into a tangible form. Since March of 1989, no copyright notice is required in order to claim copyright.
Even if money is not exchanged, a copyright infringement may occur. Charging for someone else's materials only affects the monetary damages that you might incur.