Copyright protects original expression such as literary works, letters, notes, software, dramatic works, choreography that is written or has been videotaped. I am learning about the “Idea/Expression Dichotomy” in my online class. Ideas and facts are not copyrightable but naturally the expression of ideas is copyrightable material. However, there is the “Doctrine of Merger”. if there is only one way or limited ways to express something, then there can be no copyright.
Students need to be aware of their rights. They actually own copyright of their essays and any other work they produce. Educators can not display students’ essays or other work, for example, on a blog without their permission. If the student is a minor then the parents would have to give permission. Only the creators of works have these rights: to make copies, distribute copies, perform works, display works in public, prepare derivative works based off the original. Copyright is intentionally a monopoly so that there is an incentive for creators to create. But, it does not last forever. One day all creative works enter into public domain. Rights owner may even release his or her work to public domain but there is no turning back; can’t change his or her mind afterwards.
Don’t forget employers own copyright of employees’ creative work done for the employer during the course of employment. This is “Work for Hire”. It is imperative to know what the institution’s position is, for example, will the institution allow the employee any rights over his or her course outlines?
The digital era we live in make copyright more complex. The doctrine of First Sale allows us to buy a book and resell it, lend it or otherwise dispose of it but not copy it. A publisher may stamp “Not for Resale” on books but this is not legally enforceable because of this First Sale doctrine. Digital resources are more complex because licenses and contracts may be involved.