We have all heard the warnings from our English instructors warning us about copying and "plagiarism," or the failure to properly cite work that we use which is not our own. In addition, we have all mourned the loss of Napster, a company shut down for the "violation of copyright laws." But exactly what are copyright laws? Why is it wrong to copy someone else's work?

WHY DO WE HAVE COPYRIGHT LAWS, AND WHAT DO THEY COVER?
Copyright laws protect drama, literature, music, graphics, architecture, sculptures, and other "intellectual works". These laws are designed to ensure that an artist is recognized and compensated for his work. They also prevent other people from passing the work off as their own. The person or company who holds the copyright is the only one legally able to reproduce, change, publish, sell, distribute, or perform the copyrighted material. Therefore, it is important to correctly cite any work you use that is not your own so that you do not violate copyright laws.

WHO CAN HOLD COPYRIGHTS?
The author or the creator of the work usually owns the copyright. However, if an employee created the work as part of a job, the employer automatically holds the copyright. Minors can copyright their works, but state laws often control how they can market them.

HOW LONG DOES A COPYRIGHT LAST?
Copyrights last anywhere from 67 to 95 years, depending on when the copyrighted item was created, and when the copyright was issued.

HOW CAN I TELL WHETHER OR NOT SOMETHING I WANT TO USE IS COPYRIGHTED?
You can tell if a work is copyrighted by looking for a copyright notice when the work is "visually perceptible" (this means it is printed). Although law no longer requires notices of copyright, most publishers still include them. In books, they are most often located inside the front cover, have a © symbol, the year of copyright, and the owner of the copyright.

HOW DO I CORRECTLY CITE SOMETHING I WANT TO USE?
If you want to use part of a work that you know is copyrighted, be sure to correctly and thoroughly recognize the creator of the work. For any literary work (including plays, dictionaries, Internet sites, interviews, and other information and media sources), Modern Language Association (MLA) or American Psychological Association (APA) standards are excellent to follow. Include these citations in a bibliography, or list of your information sources, at the end of your document.

WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE INFORMATION ON COPYRIGHTS?
If you are interested in more information about copyright laws, visit the U. S. Copyright Office's website at http://www.copyright.gov, and for a more complete description of copyright laws, visit http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html#wci.

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