Supp. Chapter 2, Lesson 2 Text

Lesson Two: Intellectual Property


It is very easy to find and copy digital information. The Internet is full of websites that have interesting text, great pictures and cool videos. Who owns all of this information? What are your legal responsibilities and rights as an information consumer or as the author of online data?

Copyrights and File Sharing

copyright symbolYou will often see copyright symbols (©) next to specific pieces of information. The copyright describes the owner of that information. However, even if an explicit copyright is not listed, the information still belongs to the author or owner. You are not allowed to use copyrighted information without the owner's permission! When you do have permission and use someone else's text, pictures, videos, or other data, be sure to give credit back to the original copyright owner.

You automatically own the copyright to any of your published, original work. No official registration is required with any government office; you can claim the copyright right away. However, if you wish to register your copyright, you can do so at a national office such as the United States Copyright Office. Registering your copyrighted work makes it easier for you to sue someone who is using your work illegally. Click on the link below to learn more about specific registration procedures for the United States:

The U.S. Copyright Act gives computer programs the same copyright status as literary works. This means that software is protected from illegal copying. However, this also gives software owners the right to copy their software for backup purposes and the right to sell their software when they are finished using it.

To avoid these elements of copyright law, many companies have begun selling software licenses instead of selling the full rights to the software. These software licenses, or End-User License Agreements (EULAs), allow a person to purchase software without receiving the full rights allowed by the copyright laws. The EULA allows software companies to set rules preventing copies or sales of their property.

File copyingFile sharing or piracy has become a big problem for society. Because we can capture copyrighted work such as music or movies as digital files, those files are easily copied and shared with others. However, this is effectively stealing from the person that created those files.

Creation of quality software, music, movies and other copyrighted data takes time, effort and money. When the copyright authors are not paid for their work through legal purchases, they are less likely to continue producing new work in the future. So, while it's tempting to pick up a free copy of the latest song from your friends, think first how you would feel if someone was stealing from you!

Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents

What is the difference between a copyright, trademark and patent? A copyright is used to protect an entire creative work, like a book, musical piece, or a program. A trademark, on the other hand, is used to protect a product's name, logo or slogan. So trademarks will help you separate one product or service from competing products or services. A patent is used to protect new inventions. A patent will prevent others from copying, making, using or offering your invention for sale.

In the United States, it is now possible to patent new ideas in software and programming!, for example, received a patent for "1-click" ordering through their website. However, that patent was refused by overseas countries who believe that approach is a simple and obvious example of user interface design.

There are consequences for breaking the rules of copyrights, trademarks and patents. Using someone else's copyrighted, trademarked, or patented idea without permission is seen as theft. The criminal penalties for breaking these rules could include fines, prison time and being forced to pay the owner of the copyright for your theft.

You can infringe on a trademark or patent by attempting to copy or sell someone's logo, slogan or invention. If you are caught, you will be forced to cease all use of the trademarked or patented items. In addition, you will most likely be forced to pay damages to the owner of the trademark or patent. In some cases, you could be forced to pay the owner's court costs as well as your own.

Software License Agreements

EULA symbolSoftware license agreements or End-User-License-Agreements (EULAs) are documents containing the terms and conditions you agree to with the publishing company before you begin using software. Most commercial software requires a fee to purchase or use. But some software is free for anyone to use. The license agreement may state that you can freely download and install the software for any reason. Or, the license may limit the free version to personal use and ask business users to pay a fee.

Carefully read the license agreement that comes with any freeware to understand the terms of use. Like software that is commercially sold, freeware is still considered proprietary, meaning you don't have access to the original source code. A similar class of software called shareware may be initially free to use, but ask users to donate in support of the author's efforts. Shareware may also contain a time limit where users can try the software for free, but users must pay a license fee to continue using it long-term.

Another class of software comes in open source form. Open source software is distributed in the public domain as source code that anyone can download and compile into a working program. You can also typically modify that source code for your own purposes. Again, open source software will come with license agreements that you should carefully read and understand before using it as your own.

Intellectual Property and Piracy

idea symbolAll files, websites, pictures, text, music, videos and other data you find online was created by a person or a company, and is therefore owned by that person or company. This means these things are intellectual property belonging to someone else and are covered by copyright laws. You should not copy or share these things without permission from the owner.

Similarly, software is created by programmers that get paid for their work. If you obtain their software without paying, you are effectively stealing the software. This is called software piracy or online piracy if you have downloaded the software illegally from the Internet. You should always make sure that the software you are using is a legal, licensed copy.


The Internet is a great place to find ways to solve problems. If you are trying to complete a school assignment or project, you might find someone that has posted an online solution that meets your needs. But if you simply copy that solution as your own, then you are plagiarizing or stealing someone's work. Even if you re-write the solution to use your own words, you may still be stealing their concepts.

Have you ever heard of a Student Code of Conduct? As a student in any school, you are expected to follow a set of rules for safe, ethical, and legal behavior. Part of that Code of Conduct almost certainly prohibits plagiarism.

It is not ethical to let someone else do your school work, or to steal someone else's work and turn it in as your own. Students caught plagiarizing work are likely to receive zero credit for an assignment and face other penalties described by the school's student Code of Conduct. In addition, if you copy someone's work, then you aren't learning the same way that you would by creating your own unique answers. You can use someone's intellectual property to help you learn about a topic or even inspire your own work. But be sure to give credit to the original author when needed!

Consequences of Computer Crimes

What punishment can you face for breaking copyright laws, stealing software, illegally downloading intellectual property, or failing to follow software licensing rules? You might think that the penalties are small, but that is not true! In reality, committing a computer crime can have very serious consequences.

handcuffsComputer crime is punishable in a variety of ways, depending on the circumstances. Different computer crimes might carry penalties ranging from a "Class B" misdemeanor to a "Class B" felony. A Class B misdemeanor could send you to prison for six months, cost you a fine of up to $1,000, or both!

Class B felonies are punishable with up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. In addition, crimes that involve identity theft can also be treated like physical thefts and punished as if you were a burglar stealing televisions from a house.

To make it worse, computer crimes are often also subject to civil lawsuits. Someone harmed by a computer crime can sue the criminal, causing the criminal to pay large monetary damages. For example, if you copy software and pass it around to your friends, you could be charged up to $150,000 for each copy. This means the old saying is true: crime does not pay!

Last modified: Sunday, 18 August 2019, 10:27 PM