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I Do Not Own This Story

As an artist, I am extra attentive to copyright, and I am also active in getting others to understand its use. What I have come to realize is that, there are many obvious misconceptions about the subject as evidenced by the many blatant violations of it. Even more interesting, however, are the ones that are being done unknowingly. It is in this area where I have found quite a humorous example of copyright ignorance.

The example I see frequently is on YouTube videos and is something I am sure you have seen many times. Before you can “get the joke” so to speak, it would be beneficial to have a clean understanding of the word “copyright” itself and to see its application, at least as I use it in practice every day in music and media.

The word “copy” means “an imitation, reproduction, or transcript of an original” and is from a Latin word meaning wealth or abundance.

The word “right” means “a just claim or title, whether legal, prescriptive, or moral” and pretty much meant the same thing down through the ages.

“Copyright” has a few connotations and meanings and several misdefinitions and altered meanings. According to dictionary.com, the word “Copyright” basically means:

“the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc…” This definition goes on to explain about how it came into law in 1978, to essentially protect this right.

This is it as it is defined in its purest form. The right to make copies, the right to exploit, all of these things are the exclusive right of the creator. Make the distinction here that this does not say anything about law. It specifically uses the word “right” as in, it is your right to do so. As a matter of fact, “Copyright” is listed in the 30 listed rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, pioneered by Eleanor Roosevelt and forwarded and endorsed by the United Nations. Rights are rights, no laws required. So, law is not involved in this.

libraryCopyright is your exclusive right to copies of your work; registering your copyright only provides written proof…

This is also not to be confused with “registering” your copyright, a most common misconception. Copyright and registering your copyright are two different things. The process of “copyrighting” is short hand slang for registering your copyright (your inherent right to the property) officially in the Library of Congress, which makes record of the fact. It is important that you understand that it is not this process that grants you the copyright. It is merely a registration and is useful in many legal contexts. The right belonged to you, however, from the moment you created the work, and regardless of whether or not you “copyrighted” it (registered your copyright with the Library of Congress).

Now that this is understood, you can get the punchline!

I have seen many a video posted on YouTube, that were the intellectual property and copyright of someone else, where the YouTube user took the time to, in his estimation, “be moral” and do what he felt was protecting the copyright of the author of the original video, by writing in the description:

“I do not own this video.” “This video is the copyright of Warner Brothers (or some such agency)”

That’s when I laugh. But laugh in disbelief. For it is anything but funny. What has the person just said with that statement? In that a copyright is the the right of an individual to control the copying, duplicating, exploiting, etc of his intellectual property, this person has just admitted to infringement of the original copyright. It’s pretty ironic that these people are doing this to protect the copyright when it is actually a blatant vioation.

What can we take from this?

Simple. Copyright is considered by many to simply mean “ownership” and, while this is part of it, ownership itself, of anything, includes the right of control of how a thing is used, possessed, transferred or copied. Ownership, though considered to to be “in name” is actually much more. It involves the right to control and direct the use of something one has created.

What have you written? A poem? A story? A blog? A video? A song? Whatever it is, you do not need a law or a registration to validate that the copyright is yours. From the moment you create it, you own it and control it. Laws are there to protect your rights. Your rights are your rights and they are yours to keep.

The fact that you do not own a work (video, piece of writing, etc) means that you have no right to copy it (exploit, distribute, post, etc.) Giving credit to the artist or owner does not excuse your exploitation of the work. Only exclusive permission from the originator can give you license. Remember that. Don’t be pissed at YouTube when they take down your video or block you. They are doing what they can to protect exclusive content from infringement.

Get permission from the artist or publisher

If you just simply obtain permission, it is an okay practice to exploit such works. Sometimes it costs a small fee in royalty and sometimes it may even cost nothing at all. The point is, you would want the same courtesy and protection for your own work. This is the whole reason for the Library of Congress copyright registration office. We all can do our parts too. Let’s keep people’s copies of their works in their control.

I hope you got the joke. And, by the way, I was being ironic; I DO own this article 😉

©2014 Frank Sardella. All Rights Reserved. (See? It’s true!)

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