Copyright on the web is simple:

If you did not write, create or purchase the article, graphic, or data (including HTML and other computer code) that you found, you need permission from the owner before you can copy it. Copyright infringement is stealing, and the owner can take legal action against you.  Copyright infringement used to be civil offense, and has now been changed to a criminal offense.

The definition of copyright is the right of the owner to reproduce or permit someone else to reproduce copyrighted works¹.

Since April 1, 1989, almost everything originally created is copyrighted.  The length of time material remains copyrighted has also been lengthened so that we must assume that anything on the web is copyrighted by somebody.

Exceptions have been created by congress to allow commentary, parody, news reporting, research and education uses without permission of the owner.  This is called “fair use” exception.  Fair use is important so as to allow people to be creative without damaging the commercial value of somebody’s work.

Facts cannot be copyrighted, but how that fact is expressed can be.  As Intel discovered, numbers also cannot be copyrighted, which is why they stopped naming their processors 386, 486 etc and began giving them names like Pentium.

Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, been forfeited or are inapplicable.²   The works of Shakespeare who died in 1616 are in the public domain.    The works of Mark Twain, who died in 1910 are still copyright by his heirs so are not in the public domain.  People who legally reproduce these works can copyright their reproductions.  Deciding if a given work is in or out of copyright is a complicated task.

My conclusion is:  If a serious question comes up, get legal counsel.  Paying a retainer fee is less expensive than being sued for damages or spending time in jail.

These are two examples of putting works into the public domain that I found on the web after final paper was submitted.

I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.
In some countries this may not be legally possible; if so:
I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.
The graphic is a representation of an award or decoration of the U.S. Military. It is in the public domain because it contains materials that originally came from a United States Military Award. As a work of the U.S. Federal Government, the image is in the public domain.

¹  Jennifer Kyrnin, Guide

² /

Copyright © Martin Scott March 2013 all rights reserved.  So There!