Just as people can own grazing rights, water rights, mineral rights, and rights of way, they can also own COPY RIGHTS.
Grazing rights give you the right to run livestock (usually hooved animals) on a piece of land that you may or may not otherwise own or that is collectively owned or is in the public domain, and to profit thereby.
Water rights give you the right to use and profit by a source of water, or to draw a specified amount of water out of a water source that is collectively owned or is in the public domain.
Mineral rights give you the right to extract minerals from beneath the surface of a designated area which you may or may not otherwise own or have title to, and to profit thereby.
A right of way gives you the right to cross over or to make a way or a road across property that you do not own.
A copy right gives you the right to copy a piece of writing, art, or other intellectually conceived and tangibly manifested item -- called a "work" -- and to profit thereby.
In the United States, and in most of the civilized world, the right to copy a created work of text or art is automatically vested in the name and estate of the person whose creation the work is.
In other words, when i create a work and bring it to tangible form, i have the right to copy it over and over agan, for free or for profit -- and no one else on Earth has that right.
After writing or drawing something, i can sell my rights to another individual or to a company.
Why would i sell my copy rights?
Well, i may not have the money to copy the work (to print the books, to cast the statues, or to host the web site) and so i might sell my inherent copy rights for cold cash.
Alternatively, i might sell my copy rights because even though i created a brand new, never-before-seen story or work of art, i do not have the right to market any copies of my work because another individual owns the trade mark to the name, logo, or image of a marketable character or logo that is central to my work. For instance, if i were to write a Mickey Mouse story, you might think that i have the right to copy it -- but in all practicality, i actually cannot market it or profit from it, because the name, logo, and image of the character of Mickey Mouse is protected by trade mark. However, as a free agent, i can sell my copy rights to my story to the trade mark owner. If they like what i created, they will purchase the copy rights and pay me, and they will then own the copy rights.
If i was hired by the Walt Disney company, which has trade mark to the character of Mickey Mouse, i am an employee or hiree of the company, and my job description is that i am to write, draw, or sculpt for them in exchange for a fee or a wage. In this case, my writing or art ("the work") becomes "a work made for hire" and i do not own the copy rights because, by becoming a hiree, i have, in essence, pre-sold my copy rights to the company.
Why would i sign a work-made-for-hire contract and pre-sell my copy rights?
Well, i might do so if they offered a good wage and employee benefits, or because i love the character and the company, or because i value security over the possibility of failure if i were to create my own publishing or film company.
Licensing a copy right is like renting it out in that i give another party limited use of it. A copy right license usually allows the licensee to create new forms of my material, called "derivative works." These may include using my art on a t-shirt, making a movie out of my short story, or compiling my text into a large book that collects texts by several authors. When a person or company licenses a copy right from me, i may place certain terms and conditions on the license.
Here are some of the most common terms and conditions found in a contracts governing licensed copy rights, with some samples of how they are commonly applied:
Why might i license my copyrights?
Well, the person to whom i license the rights may have a better marketing scheme than i have, or they may have more capital to invest in manufacture than i have, or it may just be that they will provide bookkeeping staff, shipping services, and storage facilities that i have no interest in developing for myself because i would rather be writing or drawing more new stuff.
If i decide to give away my copy rights, i must announce it. Because i own all of the copy rights to my works until i give them away, i must specify what i am giving away, to whom, and under what conditions. The conditions of my gift of copy rights can be broad -- "I am placing this work in the public domain" -- or narrow -- "This work can be licensed at no charge for use by anyone who retains my name to it as author" -- or anywhere in between or to either side of those two examples.
Why might i give away my copyrights?
Well, i might do so because i just got caught up in writing something for fun but i have no further plans for the work, or because i want to help support a non-profit organization that cannot afford to pay for texts or artwork that i can easily produce in my spare time, or because i am a political ideologue who opposes copyright law.
Now that you understand the basics of copyright law, i am telling you, straight up, right to your face:
I have not given away, licensed, or sold my right to copy to you. You do NOT have the right to copy my writing or artwork. If you violate my copy rights, you are as much a criminal as if you stole water from my well, ran your cattle on my land, dug a coal mine in my front yard, or built a roadway through my living room!
If you copy my writing or artwork, you are BREAKING U.S. FEDERAL LAW. I will shame you and persecute you via social media, and prosecute you to the full extent possible by law.
DO NOT VIOLATE MY COPY RIGHTS.
Shortly after i wrote the above explanation of copyright law, a friend of mine in Facebook posted the following message:
"Does anyone know of a site that I can download a textbook or at least a pdf of a textbook online for free?"
Dear [X], that would depend upon the textbook.
If it were being made available to you for free, your teacher or school would give you the URL of a site from which to download it. Since you were not given the URL of such a site, it would appear you want to download a free copy of a textbook that you would normally be paying for. This is a common practice, and students generally justify it on the basis of the textbooks being "too expensive." Of course it is also illgal. And it is immoral and unethical as well.
Let's look at the expenses in a textbook:
Text books are generally under copyright. Downloading one for free, if it is copyright protected, means stealing the royalty from the author(s) -- generally ten percent of the cover price. Authors need those sales to live on or they will not write more textbooks.
But you are not only shorting the authors, for it takes many people to produce a book. The fact-checkers, editors, publishers, typesetters, printers, binders, and shippers also need their fair share of the money, and when you download a pdf of a textbook "for free" you are shorting all of those people their wages as well.
Textbooks are there to help you learn. Please start by learning to respect the people who have taken the time to research, write, fact-check, edit, typeset, print, bind, and ship the teaching tools you need in order to proceed with your own education, so that you too may earn a living.
Now let us look at the legal aspects of copyright theft:
Copyright violation is a federal offense that can result in hard jail time. Generally the end-users of copyright theft are not prosecuted, but it is not uncommon for those who operate large storage sites for illegal copies of books and films to be prosecuted. You are contributing to a culture of lawlessness that may result in jail time for the "pusher" who supplies you with your illegal book.
Fear of punishment besets most people who steal -- but end-user copyright thieves often escape this fate, and so fear is not a strong incentive for them to reform and to stop stealing.
Next, let us look at the moral dimension of the problem of copyright theft:
Humans have short lives, especially so when we consider their intelligence and their potential for self-knowledge. For this reason, it has long been the role of the most intelligent among us to educate the young in scientific, technical, and mechanical methodologies; to increase society's general knowledge of history, medicine, and the arts; and to provide moral guidelines to all, in the hope that civilization will persist and that the quality of people's lives will generally improve over time and through the generations.
Among the many moral guidelines handed down to us, since almost the beginning of civilization, the adage "Thou shalt not steal" is a bedrock principle upon which societies rely. Unless the base and selfish impulse to rob, steal, burglarize, or take things by force is checked, we cannot live pleasant, productive lives.
Textbooks are essential to the education of the individuals who comprise a moral society, hence the theft of textbooks carries a certain horrid irony: it marks the thief as a poseur, a wolf in sheep's clothing, someone who on the suface upholds the principles of education and the moral basis of society, but is secretly an economic parasite preying upon the true educators who collaborated to create the textbook. Morally, the textbook thief is living a lie.
Finally, let us give mind to the ethical aspects of copyright theft:
In order to understand this next aspect of the implications of copyright theft, we first need to clearly understand the difference between ethics and morality.
Morals are rules for the governance of a just society. They may be codified into law (as the moral rules regarding theft are) with punishments meted out to those who are immoral. But if fear of punishment is the lowest common denominator of a society, and morality is its vast store of social goodness, there is also a third dimension to this issue, namely the internalization of morals -- a process which results in what some people called ethics -- which occurs when a person truly understands and wishes to live by a personal code of self-directed honesty and rightness, not for the sake of society, but to satisfy his or her own internal sense of fairness, fitness, and justice.
An ethical person does not need to be told that stealing is against the law, nor that stealing is bad for society. An ethical person knows with certainty that stealing is wrong, and will not do it.
In conclusion, we -- all of the humans who comprise the society in which you seek an education and a good career -- are all in this world together, and if you make authors, fact-checkers, editors, publishers, typesetters, printers, and shippers your victims, then you will not be worthy to take your place in the society for which your education is supposedly fitting you.
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