Copyright, or, When in Doubt, Seek Permission

Copyright, or, When in Doubt, Seek Permission

We encounter different forms of content in the course of a day, whether it is reading a book or a newspaper, or while browsing through websites and social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. One might assume that due to the ready visibility and access of content, often in real time as it is created, it is free for us to use and reproduce elsewhere.

Not so. Anything we read, watch, listen is the intellectual property of the creator. The creator enjoys intellectual property rights (IPR) over his works, i.e., they are copyrighted to him/her. This means that in order to use or copy these works, we need their permission and usually, pay a copyright fee to the creator of the work. Not doing so is a violation or infringement of copyright, which is punishable by law.

IPRs are legal rights that protect original works and inventions in industrial, scientific, literary or artistic fields. They cover patents, copyrights, marks and trade secrets.

Copyright covers the following:

  • books
  • sculptures
  • computer programs
  • maps
  • photographs
  • music
  • films
  • databases
  • technical drawings
  • brands, logos, mascots
  • paintings
  • advertisements

Does copyright last forever? It doesn’t, which may be fortunate or not, depending on which side of the publishing table one is on. In most countries, including India, copyright expires 70 years after the death of the author. Additionally, in India, the copyright for works whose authors died before 1941 expired after 50 years. So, works by the literary greats, including William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Rabindranath Tagore, are in the public domain, i.e., they are free to be reproduced.

We can reproduce a copyrighted work under any one of several types of public copyright licences. Of these, the Creative Commons Licences are the best known. A CC licence is used when an author wants to give other people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that they have created. They are of four types, of which the ‘Attribution’ licence allows the copying, distribution, display, performance and customised works based on it as long as they give the author or licensor credit (attribution) in the manner specified by these.

While creating content from which the creator expects to make commercial gains, it is advisable to watch out for these:

  • Any content that the creator claims to be their own should be entirely their own, with no ideas, sentences or turns of phrase taken from another source.

  • If content taken from another source is claimed as one’s own, it opens them up to charges of plagiarism.

  • Content may be taken from another source, as long as it is in the public domain, or if permission is sought and received from the creator, for free or in return for a permission fee, and credit is duly given.

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Romila Saha

Romila Saha is Managing Editor, ELT, Schools, at Collins Learning. Some of the series that she has brought out are Collins English Grammar and Composition and Engaging English. She enjoys literature, pedagogy, making books and the mountains.