How copyright is a real fright

Copyright: one of the most misunderstood and confusing sets of rules in today’s society. Clouded in controversy and ridden with loopholes and exceptions, these guidelines which protect people’s work are continually overlooked. How could it not be in a world where a person can copy and reproduce an image with a right click.

“You see it in posters around the school,” journalism adviser Kathryn Helmke said. “You see it on t-shirts; you hear it on the morning announcements. Sometimes you see it on the morning announcements. In the past, you’ve even seen it in the school newspaper.”

The first thing to understand about copyright and trademark is that while both protect work created by people, each is its own separate entity that protects different things. When one is violated it is infringement of the owner’s right to own that work.

“Copyright infringement is the usage of someone’s original work to receive credit or appraisal without the knowledge or citation of the original creator,” sophomore Omar Elhaj said.

Copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner, according to The issue is whether students know this or not.

“I think many students just don’t care,” Helmke said. “My students don’t even understand why they need permission when they take images off the internet.”

Uploading or downloading works protected by copyright without the authority of the copyright owner is an infringement of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights of reproduction and/or distribution. Anyone found to have infringed a copyrighted work may be liable for statutory damages of up to $30,000 for each work infringed, and if willful infringement is proven by the copyright owner that amount may be increased to up to $150,000 for each work infringed, according to

There are, however, ways in which one can use copyrighted work without being fined. The simplest of which is gaining permission from directly contacting the owner of the work. The other way in which copyrighted work can be used is when fair use is applicable. Under copyright law, fair use is a defense to copyright infringement claims. It allows for, among other things, limited copying, modification, distribution, performance and display of copyrighted works for teaching, research, criticism and scholarship without permission from the copyright owner, according to the FCPS Copyright guidelines. Unfortunately, this right is sometimes overused or just ignored altogether.

[People] have just gotten so used to getting information online that it doesn’t even cross their mind [that they need to ask permission to use sources],” Helmke said.

According to the FCPS Copyright Guidelines, there are suggested portion guidelines for using copyrighted media content. For motion media it is recommended that a student use up to 10 percent or three minutes, whichever is less, of a single copyrighted motion media work. For text material, it is suggested that a student use an excerpt of 1,000 words or 10 percent, whichever is less, from any copyrighted work consisting of text material. Also, it is recommended that a student use up to 250 words from a single poem, but no more than three poems by a single poet or five poems by different poets from one anthology.

“I think we all do it [rip off work from the internet],” Helmke said. “Does that mean it’s okay? No. Is it easy to do? Yes.”

The portion guidelines for music and lyrics is up to 10 percent, but no more than 30 seconds of music and lyrics from a single musical work. As for illustrations and photographs, the substantiality factor is no more than five images from an artist/photographer, or no more than 10 percent or 15 works (whichever is less) from a published collective work. Finally, the guidelines for numerical data sets are up to 10 percent or 2,500 fields or cells from a database or data table.

“For the Morning Bru we try to only use royalty free music,” Helmke said, “but we do get video submissions that are using copyrighted material.”

Despite all of these precautions and guidelines and the fact that people are given an opportunity to use copyrighted works in moderate amounts, copyright infringement still occurs frequently. Which begs the question, in this day and age is copyright even relevant?

“I think it remains relevant, but most people are unaware of it,” Helmke said. “People just don’t think about it.”