Copyright and the Law

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As new technologies appear, our legal system evolves to deal with them. To be a responsible computer user , you should understand the basics of copyright, licensing, and data protection as they apply to computers.


Copyright is a legal term that refers to the right of a creator of a work to enjoy the exclusive profits of that work for a period of time. Computers have made copyright law difficult to enforce. You should understand the basic concepts of copyright, as well as the issues involved with copyrighted material on computer networks.

Concepts of Copyrights

Understand the concept of copyright when applied to software, and also to files such as: graphics, text, audio, video. Understand copyright issues involved in downloading information from the Internet.

Article I of the U.S. Constitution gives the Congress the power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." This is the basis of copyright law in the United States, and it includes the justification for copyrights. The basic idea is that by securing an author's right to profit from their work, we can encourage authors to create things.

Copyright applies not just to books, but also to all manner of creative works: drawings, pictures, photographs, audio recordings, video recordings, and even computer software. The original creator of these works has the right to dictate who can use them and under what terms. That is why, for example, it is not legal for you to simply make as many copies as you like of a computer program that you have purchased (unless the license for the program grants you that right).

When you are downloading material from the Internet, you need to be aware of any copyright restrictions that might apply to the material. For example, there are many entire books available on the Internet. Some, such as those supplied by Project Gutenberg ( are explicitly free from copyright restrictions. But some people are not so law- abiding . It is possible to find current, copyrighted books available for download. If you download such a work, you are also violating the author's copyright and breaking the law.

Copyright and Sharing

Understand copyright issues associated with using and distributing materials stored on removable media such as CDs, Zip disks, diskettes.

Computers have made it phenomenally easy to make copies of things. Once a book or magazine article is scanned or typed into a computer, you can make hundreds of copies to CD-ROM, Zip disk, or diskette with little effort. The rise of peer-to-peer file-sharing services has even made this copying possible over the Internet. Thousands of copyrighted works are freely available for download via these services.

However, just because it's possible doesn't mean that it's legal. Sharing a copyrighted work with your friends on CD or via a file-sharing service is no more legal or ethical than making a photocopy and mailing it to them. It is possible that future copyright laws will change somehow to accommodate these problems, but for the moment, that's the legal situation.

Software Licensing

Know how to check the product ID number for a software product. Understand the terms shareware, freeware, end-user license agreement.

Copyright applies to software as well as to books, movies, and music. The creator of a piece of software has the right to determine how (or whether) that software can be shared. The standard practice in the software industry is to license a piece of software to the user under specific circumstances. For example, the user might be permitted to install the software on two computers but no more.

Many software programs assign a unique product ID or license number to legitimate users. Often you can retrieve this number by selecting About from the Help menu of the application. Figure 2.5 shows the license dialog box from a copy of Microsoft Word. Note that it also shows the copyright information for the application.

Figure 2.5. Checking the copyright and license information for a copy of Microsoft Word.

Not every application is subject to restrictive licensing agreements. Some software packages are released as shareware or freeware . A shareware application lets you legally use the software for a period of time, such as 30 days. After that time, you must either send the registration fee to the author or stop using the program. A freeware application is free to use for as long as you like.

The use of most programs is governed by an end-user license agreement , or EULA. It is a legal contract that typically appears when you are installing the software. Normally you are required to click a button to indicate that you agree to the EULA.

Data Protection Legislation

Some countries have explicit laws governing the proper use of computer data. Although the United States doesn't currently have a data protection act, you should know about some of the major legislation in this area.

Data Protection in the United States

Know about data protection legislation or conventions in your country. Understand the implications of data protection legislation for data subjects and data holders. Describe some of the uses of personal data.

Some countries have passed laws that specify how personal data can be used. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Data Protection Act of 1988 lays out a series of rules for personal data, including that such data must be accurate and must not be kept longer than necessary.

The United States lacks a comprehensive data protection act, but it does have some laws that help protect personal information. These include the following:

  • The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires Web sites aimed at children 12 and under to provide parents with notice of their information practices and to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information about children. Parents also have the right under this act to review and correct information about their children.

  • The Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 sets the conditions under which financial institutions may share consumer data with one another.

  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) led to federal rules governing the privacy of medical data. These rules require access to patient records to be limited to those who need them and notifications to patients as to their privacy rights. You also have the right to review your own medical records.

  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of student records. Parents and students have the right to review and, if necessary, correct school records. Generally, consent must be obtained to share information from school records, except in certain limited situations (for example, if the student is transferring to another school).

  • The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows anyone to request records from the Federal government. However, numerous exceptions and exclusions in the law limit the information that may be released.

In addition to these and other federal laws, state and local laws might provide additional protections or restrictions. If you're responsible for storing personal information on computers, you should familiarize yourself with the applicable laws.

Even though personal data is legally protected in many situations, sometimes it still makes sense to share your personal data. For example, when you're ordering a product over the Internet, filling out medical forms, applying for college admission, or registering to vote, you are supplying personal information that will likely be stored in a computer. The goal of data protection laws is not to keep your personal information away from computers, but to make sure that it is only used in a responsible fashion.

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ICDL Exam Cram 2
ICDL Exam Cram 2
ISBN: 0789730928
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 142 © 2008-2017.
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