Intellectual Property Protection
How it affects you!
Written by Roderick Hames 2015
Understanding Intellectual and Creative Property Rights: Is it legally yours?: US Patent and Trade Mark Site
Directions:  Read the following article and be prepared to answer the questions embeded.  There will be a quiz after you read the article.

What are ethics?  Ethics is the question of right verse wrong and then doing what is right.  So how do we know if something is right?  First, ask yourself the question is it legal?  Does what you are about to do violate any laws?  Second, is to ask if it is balanced?  Meaning, is it fair to all the people who are involved?  Finally, ask if it is honorable?  Will your decision give you a sense of pride and honor?

Lets look at real life examples to answer some of these questions about ethics as it relates to copyright.  We are taught from a young age that plagiarism (copying other's work) is stealing and it is wrong.  Stealing someone else's ideas is not honorable, legal or fair.  The same can be said about taking others music.  An artist creates and then shares their work but does not sell you his/her work to do what you want with it.  He or she just simply allows you to listen to it.  One might say, downloading music you have not paid for is like cheating on a test.  The same law that protects your ideas on a test protects a song writer and singer's creativity to produce music.  The reason for copyright law is simply to give the creator control of their work.

However, most people don't associate copying of songs, games, videos, etc. as being wrong.  They think that because it is easy and hard to get caught makes it okay.  The rights of the creator must be protected if we are going to be a society that leads in creative and innovative products and services.

1.  How are plagiarism and copying music or game alike? 

Lets see this as a personal issue.  If  you let a person borrow your email password or locker combination and they share some personal information found in your locker or email with others, without your knowledge, you probably would feel violated and very hurt.  Now think of a song writer's feeling when an artist performs their song without permission.  One step further, you copy that MP3 song from a friend and put it on your iPod.  Is it a copyright violation to take an artist's songs and sharing it with your friends for FREEYes, even if you gave it away for free, the law states you are not allowed to share an artist's music without written permission from the recording label and artist.

Did you know that there are federal laws that congress has passed to regulate and penalize those who violate these rules?  Not only could you pay large fines if caught but you could also serve jail time for the violation of copyright laws.  Why all the fuss you might ask? Without such laws others might copy your work and try and make a lot of money off your innovative and creative ideas.  How would you like that?

2.  What are some of the possible penalties for violating copyright law?                                                   

3.  Is it a  __Federal or state?_______  law that established copyright rules?

Did you know that whenever you create something it automatically and instantaneously becomes protected by federal law the moment it is written, recorded, drawn or made.  Works like a drawing, logo, research paper, poem or just about anything you create is protected.  Some things that are not protected are ideas that are not written down or created.  Also, things such as names of people, animals and area codes for a city are not able to be copyright protected.  However, if you were to paint a mural on a school building it would instantly be protected by copyright laws.  The school would own the wall you painted it on but they could not reuse or copy the image in any way without your permission.  It is this federal law that protects you and give us all the incentive to create neat things.  Why do you think we need this protection?  To help answer this question, lets look at what these rights give you.

4.  When does a copyright become active? 

Copyright law gives the person who created the work the following:

By Federal laws, only you can do these things with your work.  Would you want your songs, artwork, stories, games, etc. to be copied and sold to thousands of people without your permission?  

5.  What are two of the rights listed above that copyright law provides a person?

Some people either don't know these things or just ignore them altogether.  They copy music, movies, and other items online and even give out their copy for others to use.  Teams of programmers work for years perfecting a game.  Money lost due to sales not made only increases the cost of those programs to those who purchase them legally.  Song writers, producers, assistants, musicians, sound tech, and many others also spend many years working on songs and then lose millions of dollars every year as their songs are given away freely.  In many countries the incentives to create and share are extremely low or non existent and this causes many people to lack a desire to be creative and share since they know if their creative work will just be copied and make others very wealthy or successful.

6.  Without copyright law to protect people, would you be likely to share your creative talent with the others?

7.  Who else besides the artist are negatively  affected by the illegal sharing of music files or game CD's?

There are other crimes with more dangerous consequences.  People who are extremely bright with computers sometimes use their abilities for evil.  They create programs we call viruses and worms to take control of our computers in some way.  Sometimes these programs actually destroy the contents of our computer which rob our time. Time is said to be money. So do you think this is like stealing your money?  Should they do jail time when they steal your time away from you as you have to reinstall software or buy a new computer?

So what do you think? Should it be a crime to search and find passwords or other personal information someone saves online?  What happens when someone steals your identity?  Could it affect your finances?  How?  Could it cost you your job?  Friendship?  A reputation is a hard thing to build.  How would you go about rebuilding a broken reputation stolen by someone online?  Could this happen on social network?  If so, how?

Is it right to buy a game/song then give it to friends so they won't have to pay for it as you did?  Is it right to use your knowledge to create a "virus" software? These are questions faced by many people online today.

8. What do Trademarks (Images), Trade Secrets(Ideas), Copyright (Words) and Patents (Physical) all have in common?

This is simple.  All four are a protection of a person's intellectual rights granted by the United States of America so we as citizens can express our creativity and seek ownership for our original work.  Starting with trademarks, these are mainly images that closely identify a brand which include words, names or symbols that represent the maker of a particular good or service.  For example the bottle and the name Coca Cola are trademarks.  Even the FONT that Coca Cola is written in is a trademark.  So after you name your product and design the logo, that name and design can be trademarked to distinguish your brand.  Why is this important?  The maker of similar product might try to confuse consumers who want to buy your product, but a trademark protects your right to differentiate your product from similar competitors. 

Think of it this way.  What is the most important things you have?  It is obviously your ideas!  Your brain and the innovative ways it can dream up creative solutions to problems seems almost endless.  That alone makes it a priceless asset to any company or organization.  To help illustrate this, lets look at a well known company and brand found around the globe.  Coca Cola is one of the most recognized brands of all time and one of the largest companies in the world with over $48 billion dollars in sales last year.  However did you know that they did not produce not one bottle of coke last year.  Yes, not one.  So you might ask how did they make all their $48 Billion?  Easy, they licensed part of the 3,500 different products so others could make it for them.  Their creative ingredient list and recipes are intellectual property that is worth billions.  Their brilliant ideas are sold and continues to sell in the billions today.  Yes, your ideas do matter and businesses like Coke use these laws to keep their business profitable year after year. 

When you look at a bottle of coke what do you see?  You see the logo written in that fancy script font and the shape of the bottle.  Both are registered trademarks - images that represent the company's brand.  They are not copyrighted because copyright law normally last only 70 years past the person's death who copyrights it.  However, trademarks are perpetual (they last forever).  This was smart because had Coke just copyrighted and not trademarked their logo their copyright would have expired.  For you see, the company was started in 1892 well over 100 years ago. 

Trademarks however must continue to be distinctive and unique.  Years ago there was the invention of the "moving stairs" and a company named their product escalator.  This name was not protected enough and the court system felt like the name was no longer distinctive and unique so the company lost the rights to that name.  Therefore companies must aggressively protect their trademarks usually in a court of law.  Is it legally Yours? US Patent and Trade Mark Site might help you find out.

9. Explain the concept of trademarks for a typical company.

Coke also has the law on their side with something called trade secrets.  They might have a client list which is a trade secret.  Their formula for Coke is a trade secret. If it is original and gives you an edge over other businesses then it is considered a trade secret. Trade mark makes company products distinguishable between everyone else.  Trade mark can be the "Golden Arches" however Trade secrets is the broadest way to protect your intellectual property and must give you a competitive advantage over other companies. Trade secret violators can be fined up to $500,000 and/or 10 years in prison.

10. Explain the term trade secrets.

What are Patent?  A patent needs to be something new, not obvious, that is discovered or invented and is typically a physical item.  Patents typically last for 20 years. Have you ever seen the TV show Duck Dynasty.  What is Patent # 5,230,649?  You guessed it.  It is the Duck Commander that made the Robertson's very wealthy.  However look closely at the date.  It was made over 20 years ago and is now out of patent and anyone could copy the design.  With this limit of time, companies are forced to continually re-invent themselves and continue to seek out new products for its customers.

Remember unlike patents, copyright, can be a picture you take with your phone.  People will pay for your stock pictures.  This is copyright.  It might even be a song you write or a picture you draw and a patent is the invention of the camera itself or some way that it works.

Patents will protect your inventions.  If you design a unique game controller or even a toy based on one of your characters, no one else can produce a similar controller or toy without your permission.  Patents give property rights to inventors by allowing them the sole right to manufacture, use or sell their invention, usually for 20 years.

10. What do patents cover?

Sometimes you can combine intellectual property under several areas like Patent (physical), Copyright (words), Trademark (images), and Trade Secrets (ideas). Many familiar products are protected by a combination of copyrights, trademarks and patents. A fast food restaurant could copyright an advertising jingle, trademark the name of its signature sandwich and patent the design of a special oven that is used to keep the food warm. The formula for a new prescription drug could be covered by a patent to prevent the production of a generic version. Also, the name of the new drug can be registered as a trademark. Even the color and shape of the pill can be protected as part of the brand’s identity in the marketplace.  When you purchase a generic drug, you are simply getting a drug that has fallen out of patent.


What if privately owned land could be taken away arbitrarily, without cause? In a market system, landowners decide who can use their property or extract the resources under the soil. Would a business invest in new tools, equipment and machinery if those capital resources were not protected as private property? If entrepreneurs cannot expect to keep the profits from a new business venture, they are unlikely to take the risk or put in the hard work to open for business. The protection of private and intellectual property also provides an incentive for entrepreneurs to create because they are allowed to sell and profit from their intellectual property—their ideas and inventions. What would happen if books could be reprinted and sold without payment to the author? Would anyone be willing to write the next best-seller? If a business creates a new product design or cutting-edge technology, should its competitors be able to copy the innovation and sell it as their own? Today, a wide range of patent, copyright and trademark laws protect people from having their intellectual property copied, used or stolen by others.  A screenplay or a song, a recipe or a computer program can form the basis of a new business. But if the idea can be copied and used by someone else without payment, the new venture and all the potential jobs and profit that it might create will likely never appear.

11.There are three things someone can steal from you: time, property, and reputation.  Give an example of a way your reputation can be taken from you.

What can you do about all of this?  First, act on what you believe. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"You wouldn't want others to read your private mail so don't read their private mail.  You wouldn't want to work hard at something and then not get paid, so don't steal other's hard work.

12.  If there were no copyright laws, would that limit people's incentive to be creative?  - It has.  People in countries with limited or no laws protecting intellectual property are not as creative as in other countries that have strong laws protecting intellectual property.  In other words, with no laws to protect a creative person like yourself, would you create or invent something and share it knowing that others would propbley make millions off your ideas and give you nothing?  Probably not.

It is a simple question of right and wrong!  Remember that your choices of right and wrong affect more people then just yourself.  It is up to you to use technology in a way that doesn't harm others.

So what is protected by copyright?  Any work that is yours alone and done in a "fixed in a tangible form of expression" (written, recorded, etc.) is automatically and instantaneously protected.  Some think that it must state copyright somewhere or have a symbol or even be registered with the government to be protected.  This is not true!  All that you need to do to obtain a copyright is just create it on paper, canvas, CD, etc..  So what is not covered under copyright laws?  Improvised speeches, or performances that are not written down or recorded.  These form of art are not copy protected.  Other things such as commonly available information that contains no originality are not protected.  These include standard rules, calendars, public documents or works done by the US government.

13.  What action must a person take to obtain a copyright for their work?

 If you purchased a radio, clothes or just about any other thing at a store, you own that property. However with software, video, or music it is not that simple.  Songs, video and software is entirely different.  Songs and software is more than just a shiny CD.  It is a person's or most likely a team of people's ideas or intellectual property put together for our enjoyment.  It is their creative thoughts put down in a complex computer language, sounds, and/or images.  In fact you probably have never read all that fine print that comes with the CD or DVD.  This fine print is the license agreement that controls your use of the software, video, or music and once you open and use the software you are agreeing to the license agreement.

14. If a creative work doesn't have a copyright notice it is not copyrighted? This is NOT true.  It does not have to have this symbol.  This is only a reminder that the work is protected by law.

In reality all you really own when you purchase software is the plastic seal wrap, box, manual (if it comes with one), and CD.  However you do not own the creators work sealed on the CD or DVD.  You are only being given a license to listen or play the software, music, video, or game.  The creator owns or retains the copyright to the creative materials that you are listening, viewing, or playing.  The © (copyright) symbol simply reminds us of these inherent rights given to artists, creators and inventors.

15.  You "own" the software/copyright that you buy?_NO___ Explain Why?_________

Just because you paid $19.99 at the store does not give you rights to do anything with the software, video or music you want.  It is sort of like purchasing a book at a book store.  The paper that you purchased is all yours to write on and highlight.  However when you copy what the author said in your own school paper without sighting the work first then you have violated the copyright© laws binding an author's thoughts and ideas.  You could face criminal charges or perhaps more likely a failing grade on your paper for plagiarizing (stealing) from another author.  Many students think that taking ideas straight from an encyclopedia is okay.  Little do they realize this is stealing and can be dealt with very seriously.

16. Based on the following paragraph, if you own a book that someone else wrote, do you now own the copyright to it?

Software copyright© is very similar to book copyright©.  The collection of a person's music, video or computer game is protected from someone reselling or making copies.  The fines for selling software is worse than a failing grade in school.  You could be imprisoned, fined up to $10,000 in criminal charges, and up to $50,000 in civil penalties for each copy you give away or sell.

There is an exception for making copies.  You are allowed to make copies for backup purposes.  This is referred to as a fair use provision.  The provision however states that the backup copy is for your personal use only.  That copy may not be given to a friend or someone else.  The fair use policy also gives the right to students and teachers to use copyrighted materials for educational purposes without asking the author.  They may copy a small amount of work (being sure to give credit to the author) for reports or lessons.  It is the word FAIR that is very important. To sell, change, or use a large portion of copyrighted materials in your report would not be covered by this "fair" use provision.

17. Educators and students can copy a fair amount of copyrighted material without permission of the author. This is TRUE. Fair typically means no more than 10% of a work can be used for educational purpose without permission from the creator.

So how long does copyright protection last?  It begins immediately when the work is created and continues 70 years after the death of the author or artist.  This is why you can copy artist like Leonardo da Vinci and writers like Shakespeare and music writers like Mozart all you want.

Common Myths:

18.  It is okay to share (copy) a song file you purchased with others as long as you don't charge a fee. FALSE!


Home Viruses Computers The Internet Ethics Pt.1 Ethics Pt.2 How Computers Work History Pt.1 History Pt2 Online Copyright Quiz

From the perspecitve of a writer, watch this video:

Online Copyright Quiz

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updated 09.24.15

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