Ease of Downloading Raises New Copyright Issues

Borrowers, beware. Though the Internet has created infinite opportunity to snag art and copy, that doesn’t mean it comes for free. Or at the very least, not without the author or artist’s permission to use it.

According to Peter D. Kennedy, shareholder of the Austin-based firm Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody, P.C., “any creative expression that’s fixed in a tangible medium” is copyrighted, and how easily people can access the material has no correlation with how likely it is that they can use it without breaking the law.

During his presentation at the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ convention in San Antonio, titled, “Hot Copyright Issues in Traditional and Electronic Media,” Kennedy advised publishers about how to avoid getting stuck in the muck of copyright infringement. “Fair use is a lawyer’s bonanza,” Kennedy said, referring to the doctrine that allows limited use of copyrighted work in certain circumstances, such as the publication of a review.

The proliferation of the information freeway has brought with it gray areas that keep editors and publishers questioning whether or not they’re doing the right thing by reprinting certain material. It’s best to be cautious, said Kennedy, and to keep in mind that pleading ignorance is not a good defense to copyright violation.

Joy Howard is a 2003 fellow of the Academy for Alternative Journalism who has written for Boston’s Weekly Dig and Cleveland Free Times. She is coordinator of professional development programs for Wheelock College and lives in Brookline, Mass.