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Copyright, put simply, is a personal monopoly on an original writing, song, piece of art, or a group of any of those, for 70 years after the death of the creator.
Copyleft is a way to make a program free software and require those who distribute improved versions of it to make them free also.
The Copyleft principle is simple: cooperation goes both ways. When one programmer creates program, she has a copyright in that software. Legally, she has the power to control its use, redistribution, and modification. By releasing it under a copyleft license she makes the software available to the public in freedom, while requiring every released program that reuses her code to be free in the same way.
Copyleft encourages the user community to contribute to the improvement of the free software, by closing off the temptation to make those improvements proprietary. Meanwhile, companies are free to use, improve and redistribute the software, just like individuals.
Patents are a form of personal property that provide the owner with the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing into the United States the invention described in the patent claims, for a period of 20 years from the date of filing. The U.S. Constitution allows Congress to grant patent protection in Article I, Section 8: “The Congress shall have power… to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to…inventors the exclusive right to their discoveries.”
The public domain is a space where intellectual property protection does not apply. When copyrights and patents expire, innovations and creative works fall into the public domain. They may then be used by anyone without permission and without the payment of a licensing fee. Publicly owned national parks are also considered by many to be public domain lands. Because of the extensions of the terms of both copyrights and patents, and the privatization of lands and other resources owned by the Federal Government, little is now entering the public domain. Since the public domain is a treasure trove of information and resources to be used by future generations, many advocates are concerned that its stagnation will make it more difficult for future generations to find creative inspiration.
A commons is a place, a real physical space or an more ephermal information space, that is not privately owned. Natural commons include the oceans and the atmosphere. Garrett Hardin’s famous essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” (Science 162:1243, 1968) argued that such commons would inevitably be degraded and used up—like a village commons where everyone would feed their livestock until there was no grass remaining. Information commons hold the shared history of our cultures, such as myths and folksongs. Information commons are unique, because as ideas are taken from them to provide inspiration, they are not used up. Those ideas remain for the use of future generations of creators.
A compilation is a group of works whose arrangement is sufficiently unique to be copyrighted as a work itself.
A group of works can be copyrighted as a compilation, if their arrangement meets certain criteria. The criteria for a copyrightable compilation are not exact, but fairly straightforward: how the elements were selected, how the elements are arranged, and how the elements coordinate with each other.
The elements of a compilation must be selected in a non-standard or non-generic way to be copyrightable. Additionally, a copyrightable compilation’s arrangement cannot be generic. For example, a phonebook’s alphabetical listing of just names, numbers, and addresses has been found to be uncopyrightable.
The works that compose a compilation are not necessarily required to be copyrightable on their own-they can be facts (which are uncopyrightable). It is their special arrangement that is determines copyrightability.
A derivative work is new work that incorporates elements of an already existing work. Adaptations, translations, and modifications can all be derivative works. The new work as a whole can be copyrighted, however only those aspects that are not a part of the original are protected.
Fair Use protects free speech and common-sense uses from the copyright monopoly.
As noted before, copyright does not trump free speech, nor a number of common-sense uses of copyrightable material. This is because as a society, we place a greater value on the right to uncensored communication than the monopoly rights of an artist. The concept is codified in Title 17, Sect. 107.
Three common-sense use categories are comment, research, and education. To better explain, let’s consider what would happen if fair use did not exist. After reading the newspaper on the way to work, a co-worker could not talk to you about what he had learned without infringing on the author’s copyright. A researcher would be unable to legally quote his sources, let alone derive new theories from ones previously written. A professor would be unable to legally distribute copies of an article about a new scientific discovery to her students. The lack of protection for these categories furthers the key policy of copyright-dissemination of ideas.
Perhaps more importantly is the fair use category of criticism. Copyright does not trump critical speech. If it did, criticizing a politician’s statement, questioning a report found in a newspaper, or disputing an interpretation of a law would be infringement.
Section 107 provides the standards by which a court can determine if an act is infringement or a fair use. One very important case, Sony Corporation v. Universal City Studios applied these standards and outlined the legal basis for the public’s ability to record television on a VCR. Also called “time-shifting,” it allows one to copy a copyrighted work, in order to view or use it at another time. Another analogous concept is that of “space-shifting” which allows one to transfer a copyrighted work from one medium to another—from a CD to an audio tape, MP3 player, or to another CD. Although “time-shifting” has never been written into law, this concept has not been challenged by a copyright holder.
“Open access” (OA) means free online access to research literature. OA literature is not only provided free of charge to scientists, scholars, teachers and students, but to anyone with an Internet connection.
OA is compatible with copyright and does not require that content be placed in the public domain. In practice this means that the copyright holder consents to the unrestricted reading, downloading, copying, sharing, storing, printing, searching, linking, and crawling of the work. But the copyright holder can retain the right to block the distribution of mangled or misattributed copies, and/or the right to publish the work in a printed journal.