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Bradbury's Bother: How to Protect Knowledge Online

The well-known 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 tells a story about how television, and assumedly all technology, destroys interest in reading books. Author Ray Bradbury created a society where literature was dangerous, thus burned, and knowledge was based on partial information, devoid of context. Protagonist Guy Montag is trapped in an internal conflict, working as a fireman who burns books but becomes intrigued by them and soon believes that they are the only hope to save society.



Bradbury consistently asserted that mass media would lead to an alienated society devoid of knowledge, creativity, intellect and relationships. With the invention of cell phones, the Internet and mp3s, his point is clear. The Internet allows a person to work and socialize without human interaction. IPods allow people to tune out the world around them. Technology certainly is dangerous, but it is a daily part of most Americans’ lives.



Using technology is less than an afterthought, but putting yourself out there or interacting with another person’s content opens the door to legal risks. Anyone who has ever used the Internet knows how easy it is to copy, modify and share information, whether it is in text, image, audio or video form. Here’s a general rundown of issues that stem from sharing content on the web and how you can protect yourself from legal trouble:



What you can copy:


Public domain

  • Works and documents produced by the federal government or a governmental agency
  • Legal cases and judicial opinions
  • State and federal statutes, bills, and legislation
  • Quotations from existing works or materials
  • Facts and ideas from existing works: Copyright only protects expression, not facts themselves. Expression is the combination of words and structure that expresses the factual information or idea. Facts and ideas cannot be copyrighted and are public domain upon publishing.
  • Materials produced before 1923, as well as materials produced before 1977 without a copyright notice
  • Names (of persons or companies), familiar symbols, listings of ingredients or contents, short phrases, titles, slogans and procedures, as long as they are not protected by a copyright or trademark.
  • Tweets. They cannot be copyrighted.



    What you can’t copy:


  • Google images/text/videos/etc. Anything that pops up in Google is owned and copyrighted by the person who created it.
  • A quote that exceeds the scope of a short clip from the original work, or a quote that contains the “heart” of the work
  • Just because you copy a work and give credit to the author does not mean you are free from copyright infringement. Every published work has copyright protection, so check with the author or copyright holder before you take an image, text, quote, etc. without permission.
  • Any works or material, because you are taking it upon the fact that you aren’t using it commercially. Even if you are not making commercial use of the work, you are still infringing the law if you do not have permission from the author.
  • Any works or material of which you cannot find an author or copyright holder. Just because a copyright holder cannot be identified does not mean that the material can be freely copied.



    People copy images and text from the Internet everyday, thinking that anything they find on the information superhighway is free. Some people know that doing so is wrong, but think that it is highly unlikely that they will incur any trouble, and at most will be notified to remove the content from their account on a website or blog. However, removing copyrighted material does not remove the copyright infringement, a.k.a. the author of the content may still have a legal case against them.



    Thanks to copyright law, all creativity, knowledge, and intellect is not lost, but rather protected.



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