Copyright is about ownership of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, such as a book, play, song or painting. In theory, some things cannot be copyrighted, such as a surgical operation or a way of doing business.
Initially, the author of a work is the copyright owner, but ownership can be sold or transferred to someone else. Copyright on books etc. normally lasts for seventy years after the death of the author. Sound recordings are usually protected for fifty years. However, this is not always the case.
The Internet has created massive opportunities for breaches of copyright. The Internet provides text and illustrations in electronic format, making it easy for the unscrupulous user to cut and paste material into their own documents. Trying to pass someone else’s work of as you own is known as plagiarism.
The same rules generally apply to materials published on the Internet as to those published on other media. Almost everything on the Internet is subject to copyright, so when you download material you should ensure that you are not breaking copyright law.
The greatest area of commercial concern is copyright breaches involving music files and still and moving images, particularly movies and TV programmes. A digital file can be cheaply and easily copied and distributed anywhere in the World via the Internet, meaning that the creator and/or publisher receives no payment.
A number of defensive methods have been created to prevent digital products against copying. They are known collectively as Digital Rights Management (DRM) and are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers and copyright holders to restrict the use of digital content and devices after sale. The use of DRM is controversial. Supporters claim that it helps fight copyright infringement but opponents maintain that there is no evidence that this is true and that it prevents customers from carrying out perfectly legal activities such as making backup copies of CDs or DVDs, lending materials from a library or using copyrighted materials for research and education.
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