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InfoLiteracy During the month of October we have been doing posts relating to National Information Literacy Awareness Month and how you can increase your information literacy. This is our last Information Literacy post of this year. We hope you have enjoyed them. Leave a comment if you have a question or suggestion for a topic for next October. In today’s post, we’re taking a brief look at copyright.

Copyright is a complicated subject so this is just going to skim the surface, but I think the basic facts will be helpful. It’s such a complicated subject that most such summaries include a sentence like, this is NOT legal advice and I am NOT a lawyer, contact a lawyer for further information (so there’s mine). Copyright is, at its most basic, a right to copy. It was designed to encourage production of new ideas and writings by making sure people could make enough money off their work to keep them producing more. Copyright is also designed to expire (although laws keep pushing that date farther and farther away) so that the general population could build on and expand on those previously created works building new things and creations for the good of society. For example, Walt Disney Productions can take out of copyright fairytales like Snow White collected by the Brothers Grimm and make the movie Snow White or Seth Grahame-Smith can take the out of copyright novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and make Pride and Prejudice with Zombies.

Anytime you make a copy of a work still under copyright protection, without permission or without falling within fair use guidelines, you have violated the laws governing copyright. Some things to keep in mind as a student:

  • Not everything you copy or manipulate for a class is considered fair use (otherwise known as OK to do) because you are a student.
  • That fact that it’s technically easy to use someone else’s work (to download, copy, manipulate, paste in a paper or a PowerPoint, etc.), doesn’t mean it’s legal to do so.
  • There are places where people post stuff that they want you to copy, so you can use them without asking permission, for example Creative Commons. You can find creative commons photos by searching Photo Pin.
  • Even when you are using something with permission, most people require a photo credit or a citation giving credit that you are using their work in your project.
  • You may think it’s OK to do something because you get away with breaking copyright law once, but if you are caught the consequences can be a cease-and-desist order, a fine, or even a lawsuit. The fact that you had done it many times before without getting in trouble won’t help your case.
  • When you sign up for some program or website (like Facebook or Pinterest) you are often asked to click agree on something called Terms and Conditions. When you click agree make sure you understand that you are agreeing to abide to stricter measures on copyright and giving up control of your work among other things. It’s a good idea to actually read them before clicking.
  • When you buy a program, etc. it often comes with the license, and license restrictions are often much, much stricter than copyright. By agreeing to the license you are agreeing to follow these stricter rules, but again make sure you know what they are before you agree to them.

Learn more about copyright for students with this handout from Iowa Area Education Agencies:

See past Kirkwood related blog posts on:

Also find books on copyright in the collection around 346 and many more are available as e-books through the catalog.

Sarah Uthoff is a reference library at Kirkwood Community College. LIKE the Kirkwood Community College Library on Facebook and find links to Sarah all over the web at her About Me Profile.