copyright and fair use laws
Copyright law provides protection to the creator of a piece of work to disseminate that work as they wish. It is the means by which the work of artists is protected, which occurs at the time of creation (Copyright Basics, 2012). For the purposes of studying digital environments, it’s important to know what can and cannot be copyrighted. Generally, copyright protections, according to Title 17 of the United States Code (2016), cover literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, video, audiovisual, or audio work. Copyright does not extend to ideas or anything intangible. Only the creator of the work or "those deriving their rights through the author" are able to have copyright over a piece of work (Copyright Basics, 2012). Once copyright wears off, works enter the public domain and are free for use without penalty.
Section 107 of Title 17 covers Fair Use. This essentially creates an exception to copyright protections. It is different from items being in the public domain. An item can be fair use and still have copyright protections on it. The question is not whether the blogger, for example, used a copyrighted item, but how they used it. To qualify as fair use, the usage of content needs to pass a four-prong test. The criteria to “pass” or qualify the use of a work as fair use, considers the following: 1) the purpose of the work, 2) the nature (e.g. published/unpublished) of the work, 3) the amount of the original work used in the reproduction, 4) the impact on the market of the original copyrighted work (Copyright law, 2016).
The other element to consider with online environments is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was enacted in 1998 (n.d.). This act revised copyright law so that use of copyrighted work online could be better regulated. Essentially, the DMCA gives work on platforms, like YouTube, for example, an extra level of protection. If a copyright holder feels that work is used inappropriately, they can issue a takedown notice and the platform (e.g. YouTube) must take that content down. The person posting can issue a counter to this and claim that their use of the content is fair use. If this counter-claim is not followed by a lawsuit within 14 days of the receipt, then content is reposted (MediaNet, 2015).