Understanding Copyright and Intellectual Property

In the digital age where creating, sharing, and selling creative works online has become the norm, understanding the concept of copyright and intellectual property is essential. Whether you're an artist, a writer, a musician, or simply someone who enjoys consuming creative content, knowing the ins and outs of these legal concepts can help protect your rights and respect those of others.

In this guide, we delve into what copyright and intellectual property entail, their implications, and how they can lead to issues like plagiarism when misunderstood or misused. Let's begin with understanding the term 'copyright.'

Copyright is made up of two words, copy and right.

Copy here means literally what it means, to replicate something.

Right, in this context, means the power to do something, as in someone has a right to plant trees on their land and not on someone else’s land.

When you put both words together, the meaning is obvious. A copyright means the right to copy. But what can be copied? Intellectual property.

What is an Intellectual Property?

An intellectual property (IP) is simply something that has been created by someone’s intellect (brain). This ranges from music to stories to characters to patents and much more. For example, only the creator of a character, owns the copyright to that character. Meaning only he can:

  • Copy that character from one medium to another

  • Copy the character multiple times to make a profit (like an NFT collection)

  • Give/sell the copyright to someone else

As you can see in the third point, creators are not always the owners of copyright to works they created. One standard practice is that when an artist creates while under an employment or freelancing contract, he/she doesn’t own the copyright to anything they create. For example, Stan Lee may be the creator of many Marvel superheroes but that doesn’t mean he owns the copyright to them. That probably belongs to Disney or Marvel, the company.

The natural consequence of having copyright is that these rights must be respected. Should they ever be violated, plagiarism has occurred. How can copyright be violated?

All copyright violations occur through unapproved use. As in, when someone uses the work of an artist (or copyright holder) commercially without first getting approval from the copyright holder. This is seen as intellectual/creative theft. No one likes to be stolen from and so it only makes sense that it is heavily frowned upon everywhere.

To reiterate, you plagiarize by using someone else’s creative labor without their permission.

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