Digital technology can sometimes make it too easy to copy someone else’s intellectual property, including music, videos and software. This is a form of copyright violation. There are many websites where users can download illegal copies of CDs, movies or computer programs. Even if content is downloaded from legal sites, such as iTunes or Amazon, it may later be copied and distributed illegally. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988) makes it a criminal offence to make unauthorised copies of copyrighted information and offenders can be liable to prosecution.
In the UK, and in many other countries, it is not necessary for the creator of a work to register it as copyright – the act of creation in itself is sufficient to give copyright protection. A work could include a song, a video, a book or any text or graphics appearing on a website. The safest approach is to assume that any information found online is copyrighted, unless you have specific information to the contrary, for example work which is marked as public domain or otherwise licensed for use.
There are some exceptions to this. For example, it is normally permissible to use short extracts from a book for educational purposes, as long as the source is mentioned. It’s generally OK to share links to copyrighted material on websites, as long as you don’t share the material itself. And of course, you can always contact the copyright holder to seek permission to copy the work.
Plagiarism – attempting to pass someone elses work off as your own – is another aspect of copyright violation. Students are often tempted to pass something they have downloaded from a website off as their own work. This is a form of academic dishonesty and is severely punished by most schools and colleges, to the extent that guilty students may be expelled. There is nothing wrong with obtaining information from web-based sources, but if you do so you must make the source of the information clear by referencing it correctly. Website references normally include the source website and the date downloaded, eg
http://www.somesite.com/ Downloaded on 26/07/2012
Next: Legal Concerns