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Freedom of Speech at Risk in Cyberspace
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s it an infringement to download applications, images and sounds from a Web site? Or to make a new Web site with data downloaded from someone else’s site? Or to send the downloaded data to someone else in an e-mail? Is it still an infringement if the data originally downloaded doesn’t state that it is copyrighted? How can one protect work that one has created on the Internet? How can one get permission to republish? Or obtain permission to scan something into a database?

Copyrightinfringement could occur in numerous ways on the Internet, a danger and a fear which at the least can inhibit free speech.

The good news is that now answers to basic queries about copyright law for the uncertain user can be found on the Internet itself at the web site of the copyright Clearance Center.

Copyrightis the protection of the works of artists and authors giving them the exclusive rights to publish their works or determine who may so publish. It is a powerful incentive for the creation of new works of art and invention that shape the future of our society.

The copyright Clearance Center (CCC), headquartered in Danvers, Massachusetts, was formed in 1978, shortly after the 1976 copyright Act came into force on January 1. The Center was set up, at the suggestion of Congress, by authors and publishers concerned about maintaining rights to the works they created, for the purpose of making it easy to get permission to use copyrighted material. Today, more than 9,000 participating publishers represent a total of more than 1.7 million titles.

Ever since the first photocopier was produced there has been a debate as to how exactly Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution: “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries,” should be interpreted.

Using CCC Online, an Internet user can get his questions answered about what the law actually is, and what he can and cannot do. He is able to find out instantly whether he has permission to use a particular work by searching CCC’s catalogues. Not only that, but he can find out how much it will cost, file electronically for permission to copy it and then arrange payment for it, in one visit to the web site. And the service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

CCC Online is at Then click on the highlighted word or phrase which contains the information you need, and you can go to different pages with helpful related information.

One of them is on the recently released National Information Infrastructure White Paper entitled “Intellectual Property and the National Information Infrastructure.”

This report recommends changes to copyright laws to ensure they cover the new technology of the information superhighway. It also recommends strengthening penalties for infringements.

The recommendations include:

  • Amend the definition of “publication” to recognize that “a work may be published through the distribution of copies of the work to the public by transmission.”

  • Make it illegal to infringe a copyright by distributing copies valued over $5,000 by the creator.

  • Give a court the power to impound any device or product in the custody or control of the alleged violator when the court has reasonable cause to believe it was involved in a violation.

  • Enable a plaintiff to recover damages of between $2,500 and $25,000 for each copyright violation.

  • Make it a criminal offense for anyone to knowingly violate the sections on false copyright information or copyright information removal, punishable by a fine of up to $500,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years or both.

Other sites that can be reached through CCC Online include the Harry Fox Agency. This agency, a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Music Publishers’ Association in the United States, is another copyright clearinghouse.

There are also links to the sites of the U.S.CopyrightsOffice, the Software Publishers Association (an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of software manufacturers and preventing piracy of their work), Broadcast Music Inc. and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

The copyright Clearance Center is not only able to assist with copyrightswithin the U.S. As a member of the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO), it has bilateral agreements with IFRRO members in 20 other countries, which enable it to assist on international licensing transactions involving reproduction of copyrighted materials as well.

The value of the copyright Clearance Center should not be underestimated. Its contribution in terms of free speech, and protection of both the creator and user of new works is immense. The Center provides a sane solution to a vexing problem and should be used.

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