Copyright, licencing, and Digital Downloads

Copyright, licencing, and Digital Downloads

Copyright, licencing, and Digital Downloads

I’ve decided to write a piece about copyright and licencing in layman’s terms to help people understand about what all this means to us and the Internet too!

Some people think that because something can be indexed and found on a search engine, it is automatically public domain. It’s not. Public domain is a concept that is also often misunderstood, but that is a topic for another day.

Some cling to the misguided phrase that “Possession is 9/10ths of the law”. Possession and ownership are two different things. You may have Legal or Illegal possession, but you can only legally have ownership. For purposes of this discussion, we are obviously excluded fraud and fraudulent documentation fabricated to support the fraud.

Take a simple example: if you find a wallet filled with $1000 on the street and there is no name in it… does it belong to you? You may now have possession of it, but it is not yours. The right thing to do would be to either leave it where you found it, turn it in to an authority, or try to get it back to the owner.

If you make the excuse that, “Oh well, I don’t know the owner’s name so I may as well just keep it”, you are taking someone else’s property. It is the same with any copyright. These same laws govern photography and artwork. Yet many people feel that because it is on the Internet, it is free!

I’ll take another example to illustrate why this is a slippery slope to a crime! If it’s ok to steal one paperclip then surely it is ok to steal one paperclip from everyone, not so? I can then open up my own business selling paperclips. The problem is not the law but rather our understanding of it, and how acclimatised we are to theft as an everyday event.

Think of a license as rent. Unless you buy the house you live in, you must pay rent. If you don’t like paying someone to make use of their house, then do something about it! Make an arrangement and buy the property from them. Similarly, this is the case when you license an artwork. You only ‘own’ it once the copyright is transferred to you.

Your decision on your rent amount, and what type of property you choose, will dictate what you can do with that property. You may rent a business or a residential properly. You might be able to run a business from home or not. This is what your lease agreement will dictate and you either agree to it, or you go find alternative shelter from the elements.
By the same token, your license to make use of an artwork shall be dictated by the owner of the copyright. Therefore, if you want to have the rights to do what you need to do with an artwork, a suitable license needs to be negotiated.

When you move into your rented house, you are given the rights to use that property as long as you keep up the payments. Just because you move in, it doesn’t mean you now own the property.

Simply licencing an artwork doesn’t mean you now own the copyright to it. If you would like to have exclusive rights to an artwork, either you must negotiate an Exclusive “Lease” (the License) for a specific period, or you need to purchase the Copyright from the Artist.

If you choose to “lease” the rights to an artwork for a period of time, let’s say a year, the owner of the copyright suspends his rights to sell or make use of the file commercially (or as agreed upon) during that period. Once the time period is up, the owner of the Copyright can then do as he or she wishes with it unless stipulated by your previous contract.

I hope that by now the difference between purchasing a license to make creative use of an artwork, and having ownership of the copyright and thus the artwork is clear.


Some further links you might want to read:

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