Copyright–A Simple Concept

I’m shocked, although perhaps I shouldn’t be.

Why? A few months ago, I taught a workshop to some small-business owners and nonprofit board members and volunteers. In the course of the workshop, which was fee-based, I provided hard copy of my presentation, plus some additional handouts. Some of the handouts were examples of points I covered in the workshop while others were information I created that were along the lines of resources for applying skills learned in the workshop. I clearly marked on all of the materials (except those I don’t own) that they are copyrighted to me–with all rights reserved.

All was well and good until a workshop attendee contacted me recently and asked if she could post my materials on the chapter website for an association to which she belongs. She sent along the PDFs she created from my materials for approval.

So, what’s wrong with that, you ask?

Well, she did right in asking me if she could post the materials before actually doing so (although she was denied permission to do so). But she didn’t seem to understand–and appeared quite miffed at being told–that she had had no right to convert the materials into PDF form in the first place! I’ve since sent her a couple of strongly worded emails requiring her to delete those files permanently. I certainly hope she does so, so that I don’t need to involve an attorney should they ever appear anywhere…

At any rate, it got me thinking that nowadays, with the proliferation of information worldwide, people seem to have forgotten a simple concept–if you didn’t write it, you don’t own it and it’s not yours to do anything with–not a thing. I likened her act of PDFing my materials to taking a book and PDFing each page in it to make a file. I explained that the author and publisher of the book would freak out on her–rightfully–if she had done that.

She’s not the only person I’ve had try to lift my work, although she is the first (and hopefully last) that is from the U.S.

So why am I still so shocked at this? Well, two things, really.

First, I’m going to gather that she doesn’t own the software she used to create PDFs. Since there were no ads on the files, she apparently didn’t use one of those free services. Most likely she used her employer’s software to do the job. Does she not realize that she could be fired if they found out she had used company-provided software, especially to violate someone else’s copyright? Or, as one person I know termed it–to “steal” the materials? I know many companies that would fire this young woman immediately for misusing company property and doing something illegal. And does she not realize that she also has opened up her employer, if she did use company property and time to do this, to a potential lawsuit if the files were to ever be posted or distributed?

But perhaps the most distressing part of this is the second thing: she was a fellow writer! How could she not know what she was doing was wrong? How sad that someone who bills herself as a writer would do something so pitiful, so awful–so wrong. And add insult to injury at not seeing the problem.

The internet is a wonderful place, filled to the brim with information galore. But please remember that simply finding information on the internet–or being handed materials in a workshop–does not automatically give you the right to reproduce the materials–by photocopying, by creating PDFs of the materials or by reproducing them in any other way. Remember, she who creates it owns it.

For more information about copyright, visit the U.S. Copyright Office or, for a layman’s version of copyright, the WikiHow article on understanding copyright basics.  And if you’re outside of the U.S., you may want to review this article regarding copyright in other countries.

Contact me if you’re interested in having Word Technologies Inc. present workshops on writing, editing, press releases, public relations, communications, marketing, technical documentation or other topics.

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