Internet Copyrights and laws

To begin we must take a moment to look back in time at the Internet.  Today the Internet has become to many an essential element of daily life.  Communication, research, socializing, and advertising are just a few of the common uses of the vast Internet.  The history of the Internet is an interesting topic that has a long and broad lifeline.  Most everyone involved with networking and or the Internet knows that things basically got started with ARPANET.  ARPA, was the department of defense's Advanced Research Project Agency.  This agency was started by the government in hopes to design and promote super computer communications.  It was quite a project to tackle but was a vital advancement that led to today's fast communication driven society.  There was network research in distributed communication networks before the ARPA came about. RAND, a cold-war think tank, was put on the task to devise means of communication after a possible nuclear attack in early 1962.  ARPANET was developed during that time as well: 1962 through 1969.  In 1969 ARPANET connects the first four universities in the United States, creating the first Internet hosts:  Stanford, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah.  ARPANET continued to be used by universities and business, but eventually it makes its way into the public market.  Around 1974 the general public got its first networked computers.  This swung the networks focus from Military and research to casual users. The next big advancement in the network was in 1983.  A research team developed the TCP/IP protocols.  This standard allowed for a boost in software and hardware that was produced and designed by different companies to work together, so the Networks can now grow much faster. This really marked the beginning of the Internet. Internet hosts exceeded 100, 000 by 1989, and added another 100,000 before the year was out. In 1991 the World Wide Web was born.  The TCP/IP was revolutionary standard when it was though up, but has sense passed its prime and new versions have emerged that allow for increased data rates, but is in fierce conflict with services such as DSL, or cable.

Another topic to consider is that these networks used a client-server relationship as opposed to a peer to peer.  This is a great concept since the data processing and storage is spread among many different computers.  Hosts will store numerous files that can be accessed by a remote computer and run off that server.  This makes file sharing and processing easier and faster. In short, the application programs using the Internet follow the client-server model.  The continual growth of users and uses for the Internet the government must take a stance in protecting citizens from its power.  More than likely you have heard a story about someone getting a virus or some sort of computer fraud.  Sadly the Internet is used by thieves and for mischievous reasons.  Since a network now gives thieves access into your personal life without ever stepping foot in your own home or even in the same country, it should be considered a dangerous convenience and precautions should b taken.  The Internet came be a safe and reliable medium for communication, with the proper software aids, like firewalls, and virus scans. These programs may protect your computer from possible damage, but it will not protect your public directories.   More and more people are building some form of their own websites weather business or personal.  Everything you create and put online is your work, but through the software that is used to browse the Internet, like Explorer or Navigator others have the ability to save or copy your work.  Some may argue why does this matter, the Internet is designed to spread information to many, and break down the barriers for those who once would not get the opportunity to receive it.  Well, it is not the information used for learning purposes, but those who copy works and claim them as their own.  Works such as:  images, graphics, digital photographs, essays, articles, books, and much more.

Laws and Control:

Now that the Internet has consumed our daily lives it should be clear why the government has stepped into the scene.  The Internet was in-turn created by government agencies, and now the need for government interaction to assist in the control of this massive movement is a necessity.  The concept of control is a sticky topic to address, because every user has his or her personal opinion about control and their freedoms. 

America’s strive for convenience has been a major player in the Internet’s growth and also a larger contributor in the need for Laws for protection to be established.  With the Internet we can instantly access articles, books, documents, and many other forms of information.  Most of the time these are free for the public to read, just as though they could read an article in a magazine or newspaper.   This convenience opens the door to possible problems, since one can physically obtain a copy of the document, by copying and pasting the text, or saving the actual file to their personal computer.  It must be understood that Internet browsers, like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, or Netscape’s Navigator, do not make a permanent copy of any document, but only temporarily store the information in the cache so that you can view the document.  If a copy is made then it was done solely by the user.  People have grown to think that the Internet is all Public Domain.  Meaning that if they can view it, then they can copy it and use it as they please.  This mentality is obviously not correct.  Yes, the Internet is a great source for this information, but it requires the same level of protection as though the article or image was found in a magazine or newspaper.  Most people would understand that copying from a magazine, plagiarism,  is illegal, but would think the opposite if this article was found online.  The major debate about what to protect and what not to protect is the fact that this ease to obtain good literature and graphics is one of the main attractions of the Internet.  “Why re-invent the wheel?”

For the average user we may not see the impact of someone taking a graphic one created and using it as their own, but when what is stolen is for commercial use, physical damages may occur, whether it is financial or other.  Historically, consumers of books and similar literature freely engage in a variety of uses with the works without permission of the owner of the intellectual property.  The copyright owners to these works tolerated such uses, mostly due to the fact that these activities were difficult to detect, and held little market damage significance.  The Internet has changed this notion entirely.  This is evident in the sale of software.  It is very easy to copy a software program, and this drastically reduces the sells of the actual software packages.  These companies are regularly trying new techniques to reduce the amount of pirating, but they still fall short.  For example the music Industry attacked a favored online music source Napster.  Napster, under scrutiny for their role in providing illegal music to its users (although not directly), caused its initial downfall.  Although Napster is back online with a totally new software bundle to use, it has cleaned up its interface and its back end to appeal to the law.  In this case the law has drastically hurt Napster, but although it is starting back small they will be making money.  It is illegal to download copyrighted music and the industry claims this will be the demise of the music industry.   Along the same lines, the CD recording devices are now being considered a threat to the industry.  These claims have held very little ground in the past.  For example, the tape recorder and the video tape recorder were thought to be the end of the industries, but those were obviously false.  Now that we see the problems that can arise from the Internet:  copying music, art, graphics, articles, publication, and other copyrighted material, we can now discuss the progress that has been made in Internet Laws. 

It is easy to take sides in the control of the debate, so I am going to attempt to present my findings in a non-bias manner and to communicate to you the facts and not my opinion.  To illustrate this debate, a brief description is needed.  On the side of protection, new ideas and the right to protect those ideas for profit drive the economy.  So following the normalist view these same laws should apply to works on the Internet.  The popularity of the Internet as a tool to distribute ideas is an essential tool, but this tool should not be considered a medium for stealing.  The Internet will reward society with the increase in commercial use as long as its fundamental concept of property ownership is protected under the copyright system.  Legal measures must be taken to prevent the devastating effects of an uncontrolled distribution of other’s protected works, whether it is text, software, images, or other works.  Society is driven by profit and the only way to receive a profit for an intellectual work is by its purchase.  If there is no control over the theft of these works, society will suffer in the long run.  For example, if software was no longer stolen society would benefit as a whole, because in theory if  overhead figured for the average loss in income from thieves was abolished the selling price for the product would also be reduced.  So, the consumer will pay a less.

To take the view of those against any control over the Internet, laws would cripple the foundation of the Internet.  The Internet is based on its ease of access and instant communication.  Therefore, the enforcement of copyright laws would be an attack at the Internet’s backbone.  The Internet has made information once available to a few available to millions more.  If copyright laws were strictly enforced it would impede the sending of electronic mail (like forwarded stories or replies with attachments) and the reproduction of creative works for personal use.  The major argument here is the concept that in today’s interactivity with the Internet information is spread so rapidly it become old new quickly and the “value of that work can no longer be measured by the barriers that once restricted it.”

It is still a new area of study surrounded by controversy and uncovered ground.  To future bring the notion of the changes in Internet Law, we will now discuss a few interesting cases.

Interesting Cases:

Playboy Enterprises, Inc. has had its share of copyright protection cases.  The publishing icon has search the Net for unauthorized uses of its famous nude pictorials, and subsequently has slapped Web site operators with costly lawsuits.  The company also uses digital watermarks to tag online photos with its copyright and contact information.  A federal judge in Virginia handed Playboy its second online intellectual property victory.  The court ruled that Hong Kong based Asia Focus International and Internet promotions was liable for trademark infringement after the companies embedded the terms “Playboy” and “Playmate” within the code of their Web sites (metatags). 

          Playboy’s Cyber Club charges up to $60 per year for access to original photos and real-time Playmate chats.  The company’s content is undoubtedly what is luring Net users to its site, which accounts for Playboy’s aggressive legal tactics.  Playboy charged that the use of metatags dilutes its trademark.  The federal judge in Virginia agreed and ruled that “the trademarks have acquired such goodwill and secondary meaning through national and international advertising and promotion that the public has come to associate the ‘Playmate’ and ‘Playboy’ trademarks exclusively with [Playboy Enterprises].” 

          Playboy was awarded $3.7 million from Five Senses Productions, a subscription-based service that filtered Usenet newsgroups for sexually explicit images.  Five Senses was found liable for illegally distributing 7,500 Playboy pictures through the service and CD-ROMs.  

A federal court in Texas awarded Playboy Enterprises $439,000 plus attorneys’ fees in the company’s case against Webb world Incorporated who, like Five Senses, filtered thousands of sexually oriented photos from newsgroups. 

          A federal judge ruled in an important Internet law case that “Playboy Enterprises may not prevent one of its former centerfold models from using the bunny company’s famous trademarks in her sex-related Web site.”  Judge Judith Keep said that Terri Welles, a former Playmate of the Year, could use the trademarked words “Playboy” and “Playmate” in both the visible and hidden portions of her Web pages, eventhough Playboy Enterprises attempted to prevent any use of their terminology.  Welles’s use of the trademarks is legal because the words in question reasonably describe a major achievement of the model’s career and because Welles’s fair-use of the trademarks was not likely to cause consumer confusion about the sponsorship of the site.

          The last few cases dealt with Playboy Enterprise, but there are hundreds more to use to get a perspective of how the courts react to Internet law infringements.……….

Cases in Perspective:

These cases all surround a central topic:  copyright protection.  So, what is a copyright?   “A copyright is the set of exclusive legal rights authors have over their works for a limited period of time. These rights include copying the works (including parts of the works), making derivative works, distributing the works, and performing the works (this means showing a movie or playing an audio recording, as well as performing a dramatic work). Currently, the author's rights begin when a work is created.”  It must be understood that  works do not have to bear a copyright notice to be protected by copyright laws.  The purpose for protection and the invention of the copyright is because the government believes that those who create an original expression in any medium need protection for their work so they can receive appropriate compensation for their intellectual effort.  Similar to a copyright, our government also recognizes a trademark.  Trademarks are words, images, a slogan, or any object to identify a specific entity.  For example:  Delta has it’s red and blue widget protected by a trademark, while their sky magazine has copyrighted material about the company.  If another company wanted to start up a business it would be unlawful for them to use the same widget design for their logo.  Although Delta owns the rights to Delta and their widget, it does not however own the rights to the actual phrase Delta.  The letters are unprotected, although the style of text or the way the text appears can be.  This is another important aspect, since other companies can be called Delta, like Delta facets.  Although the phrase is protect like I mentioned you must be careful when naming a business if you plan to implement an online store of business.  Recently Victoria’s Secret one a case against a porn store that sold trashy adult costumes and videos.  He named his store Victor’s Little Secret.  Due to the content of both stores being very similar and adult clothing type store, VS had the rights to sue and won.



Acts to know: 

Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Berne Copyright convention was created in April of 1989.  This act was a good step in the right direction, establishing that all original works posted online are copyrighted and protected under the law regardless if a notice or warring has been posted.  This act covers all works for up to 5 years, and at hat point the author must establish a registered copyright on the works to continue protection of the works.

No Electronic Theft Act was passed into law during December of 1997.  This Act was a strong step in regulation by our friend Bill Clinton.  This act states that it is a federal crime to possess copies of unauthorized copyrighted materials.  This is a strong step forward, since it under this bill one may be prosecuted as a felon, for offences valued at over $1,000.  Strangely this bill did not contain any extra provisions for what is know as fair-use provisions.  Assuming it is just understood, but leaves room for question.  Free-use is basically the copying of works at a library for educational use.

Common Misconceptions:

Through my research a few common misconceptions became evident in terms of rights in the Internet environment.  The first myth, which is the reason I decided to tackle this filed of study, is “If it doesn’t have a copyright notice, it’s not copyrighted.”  In short, the answer is no.  Under the Berne copyright convention almost everything created originally is protected whether it has a notice or not.  The Berne copyright convention was passed into action on April 1st, 1989.   So, never assume an image is in public domain, but obtain permission by the artist before copying the item in question.  Almost all nations do follow this convention, but it is not easily enforced.  These laws make it illegal to reproduce original works without permission; those works that are of a non-commercial nature receive very little protection by the government.  When it comes to actual prosecution, it is difficult to prove the actual physical damage incurred if it is not of commercial value.  You may get the impression that everything is protected and you can not copy anything.  Well, this is also not true.  Anything that is considered in Public Domain is free to take, copy, alter, and claim as your own work.  Those who place images or other original works in the public domain lose all their rights to protect it.  The Berne copyright only protects works for up to 5 years, so if registration has not been made within that time period it will be considered public domain.

Many people feel that the actual punishment for a copyright violation is meaningless, however this is also false.  Although in many cases it is difficult to prove damages and that the original has been taken, that does not mean that a violation is not a serious crime.  In fact, a violation involving more than 10 copies or a value of over $2500 is considered a felony.  The reason so many people have the notion that stealing works online is no big deal is because the courts have “better things to do.”

The last major misconception is that people feel that I can take and use their images, since it is free advertising for them.  Well once again, this is a misconception so that claim is completely false.  Although many people do appreciate the free advertising and actually encourage such actions, it is solely up to the individual or company.  Permission must first be established prior to taking any works.   It is a good idea to avoid an attempting to “rationalize whether it hurts the owner or not, ask them.”


The topic of Internet law is a fascinating area to study and to continue to research.  New cases are being brought into legislation every day and each case has the potential to set a new president.  Now that you have seen the facts and the laws surrounding the Internet, please think about your actions online and the repercussions that can follow for breaking the law.  New technologies like server logs to keep track of who, is doing what, and even more threatening is the use of watermarks.  Watermarks encrypt data into the actual picture that contains information to link that work to its original author.  Like read earlier in the Playboy case, this technique is quite successful.  Since most Internet users are clueless as to the laws surrounding the Internet, please tell a friend and pass along the knowledge you gather as I am passing what I have complied on to you.  Lets try to turn around the trend of carelessness and rudeness and simply ask page designers or copyright holders if you can use their works for whatever reason.  The Internet is a vast essential resource for many, including myself, and its future and stability is of up most importance, so lets keep things legal and fun! See you online!