The pamphlet “Copyright and Fair Use: A Guide for the Harvard Community”, written by Allan A. Ryan when he was in Harvard’s Office of the General Counsel, summarizes copyright well: “Copyright is the lawful right of an author, artist, composer or other creator to control the use of his or her work by others.”
Any work is copyrighted from the moment that it is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression”, says Ryan, Director of Intellectual Property at Harvard Business School Publishing. Registering a work with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress is only necessary when seeking damages for a violation of your copyright. A notice (such as © 2012 DARTH Crimson) is completely optional, but may be a good way of reminding your audience that your work is protected under copyright.
For information on copyright in the classroom, read our article “Fair Use for Academics in the Digital Age”.
Something that has grown with the digital age is the concept of “copyleft”, a movement which works toward loosening restrictions on intellectual property. Some creators simply release their works into the public domain, but for those who wish to retain some form of control, there are various licensing options.
In education, this idea is a poignant one. Academics exist to research and share knowledge, and to make that information truly free and accessible supports that purpose. There can be great advantages to choosing an alternative license for one’s work, but the pros and cons must be weighed by the individual and his or her intent to use the work.
Copyleft extends outside the humanities. Nowadays the term “open source” has become known with the popularization of the GNU General Public License, under which software is released and available to any coder who wants to utilize part of the code or contribute to what already exists. These softwares are also available for anyone to use for free. DARTH Crimson’s website is run on WordPress, a popular open source content management system. OpenScholar, a personal website creation tool offered by Harvard, is run on Drupal –– yet another open source CMS.
Creative Commons is a popular option in the arts and humanities. The CC website is very informative on different available licenses and provides explanations in language that is easy to understand both for those who wish to use them and to inform those who use works licensed under them. The licenses are customizable depending on your needs, including the ability to restrict or allow modifications or commercial use of your work. The best way to learn about CC is to visit the website.