What Constitutes Copyright Infringement on Intellectual Property?

By Stacey J. Haseleu

Intellectual Property and YOU


As writers in a digital age, we face greater challenges when it comes to protecting our work.  But the sword is double-edged.  While we want to protect our intellectual ideas, we also want to be able to share our thoughts, feelings, and emotions; it’s who we are as writers.  Likewise, we like to read and expand upon the ideas of our colleagues and people we aspire to be more like.

So now that sharing a thought/idea is literally as easy as the click of a button, is our work protected?  And what are our obligations when we expand upon someone else’s ideas in our own works?

Oddly enough, the inspiration for this post derives from my terrible addiction to The People’s Court.  I know, I know, I should be using that hour of my life to write, not watch a bunch of silly small claims court numbskulls fight about whether or not an apartment was damaged in the 5 years a drug dealer lived there.

Regardless, I was watching and a very interesting case came on.  Not interesting in that the Plaintiff and Defendant were shady characters, but the topic was actually of intellectual interest.  A woman was suing a small company for intellectual copyright infringement.  Say what?

Apparently, the Plaintiff wrote and published a book back in 1997.  The Defendant quoted various parts of the Plaintiff’s book on her business website.  The Defendant’s claim was that she didn’t know it was an infringement on intellectual property copyright because she directly quoted, and gave credit to, the author.

This was my understanding as well.  Always be sure to properly quote, and fully cite your sources and you’ve done your due diligence right?

Apparently, not so much.  To my surprise, Judge Marilyn Milian actually took the time to explain Intellectual Copyright Infringement on a deeper level.    To determine if the intellectual property has been infringed, there are 4 factors to take into consideration.  They are as follows:

Purpose of Use 
Was the work used in a commercial or non-commercial context? (If commercial use, this provides a stronger case for the Plaintiff)  In other words, is the infringer making money off of someone else’s intellectual property/ideas?

Nature of Copyrighted Work 
Is the work fiction or non-fiction? (This constitutes whether it is original intellectual property or considered common, or widely used or known facts).  Published or non-published?  (If it’s published, this militates towards the defendant because the author has sold the intellectual property).

Amount of Work Used
Is it a single quote?  An entire paragraph?  Or many parts of the writer’s work, which basically recreates the same ideas the original author set forth?

The Effect of Use
Did the use of the author’s work affect promotion of the original work negatively or inhibit the original author from capitalizing on the work or future related works?

Ultimately, Judge Milian determined that although the Plaintiff’s intellectual property was used for commercial purposes, since the work was non-fiction in nature, the quotes were now removed from the Defendant’s website, no profit was gained from the content being on the site for the brief period of time, and since the Plaintiff’s work was over 10 years old, the preponderance of the evidence favored the Defendant.

Seeing this got me thinking about intellectual copyright on something like this blog.  Were the ideas I share with all of you on a regular basis protected as my own intellectual property?  Or did I somehow have to register the content for it to become my property (like a patent)?

To save you all from research, the answer is that when you write and publish content it is automatically copyrighted.  However, if for any reason you need to sue someone in the future for infringement, you must go through the copyrighting process.

So now I want to hear from all of you…. What do you think about intellectual property infringement in the days where the world wide web is the most common tool for sharing ideas?  How do you protect your site?

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3 thoughts on “What Constitutes Copyright Infringement on Intellectual Property?

  1. […] What Constitutes Copyright Infringement on Intellectual Property? […]

  2. GREAT post, Stacey! Lots of confusion over this issue. I was looking up something about it and found this site at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America site (http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/copyright/) that may be useful for a quick overview, and the US. Copyright Office for the law itself.

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