Hey, I'm Alexandra White.
Let's build a better digital experience.

back to the blog

October 25, 2011 Professional WritingSchool

Who Owns Creativity

We are in the middle of something of a war here — what some call “the copyright wars.”

-Laurence Lessig, “In Defense of Piracy”

Let me start off by saying: intellectual property is indeed something that needs to be protected. I understand and am thankful as an artist for Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the US Constitution. Without such a law, there would be several consequences, including the difficulty of being able to profit from your own work and an inability to claim something definitively as “yours” for future use. Furthermore, it would eliminate  a sense of ownership and pride in creation, while creating a possible fear of sharing work. I am thankful that I can call my work my own and benefit from it.

Although there are a variety of types of intellectual property, this series will focus strictly on copyright. Copyright protects tangible works of individuals/groups/companies such as books, music, video games, software, and movies. The copyright allows the author(s) to distribute and profit from their work.

My Use of Intellectual Property

In my academic and non-academic pursuits, I have an interesting history of using/creating/distributing Intellectual Property. Particularly as a student, I am often responsible for creating arguments revolving around others’ ideas (books, multimedia, etc). Most of what I do under academia falls under fair use (more about that tomorrow), although I am still subject to cite all of my sources. However, this doesn’t mean I’m allowed to do things like steal a PDF of a book for the sake of learning. It DOES mean I can quote a book in a research paper. It also means that I can use a clip of a movie in a video analysis. In fact, there’s a huge breakdown of student use of copyright materials by the Student Press Law Center.

Other uses of intellectual property include my professional portfolio. Some of the pieces were created for specific corporate entities, such as TechSmith Corporation and Swagger New York. I technically do not own the copyright on these pieces, even though I was the one to create them. I have to get permission to use them in my portfolio (and make sure I don’t disclose any trade secrets of the organizations).

Others’ Use of MY Intellectual Property

Right now, it’s relatively rare for my intellectual property to be used by many outside sources. However, I have had a few requests:

  • Friends/family asking for photos I’ve taken

I haven’t always been that responsible when it comes to these pieces of intellectual property. I have freely given away photos (and had photos taken from me) without noting that I reserve the copyright and asking for a citation. For example, while in high school I took photos during rehearsal of The Crucible. Years later, I see my photos have been posted on the WBHS drama website, without noting me as the photographer. This is an instance to which I don’t have an extreme investment in claiming my copyright. I know that the photos are, for the most part, just being used for alumni. However, if I had more of a vested interest in the photos or they were being used by a major corporation (did you hear about the anti-abortion billboard in SoHo?), I would take action to fix it (in that case, the mom sued for defamation).

  • Faculty asking to use my projects as examples

Honestly, I love the idea of my piece being used as an example. It’s one of the highest honors one can receive as a student from a professor/faculty member. Although technically there is no concern of copyright conflict (especially if it’s used for critique), it’s still a public display of copyrighted materials.

I haven’t had a vested interest in any of my materials just yet. I would be very upset if my photo was taken and used in a billboard, which would allow a company to profit from my work. This happens far more often then you would think. If you, aka the big corporations, want to make me famous… just contact me. We can have a discussion.

Funfact: Yes, those are lens-less 3D glasses.

So photogenic.

The fact of the matter is, it’s our collective responsibility to follow the law when it comes to copyright. This avoids hurt feelings, mistaken credit of work, and loss of money due to being sued. I may not have had issues just yet with my own use of IP or with others’ use of my IP, but it could (and probably will) happen. Look forward to my next post which will discuss some basic rules to live by when it comes to copyright, as well as what our rights are when it comes to fair use.

This blog entry is part 1 of 2 in a series about Intellectual Property, written for Digital Rhetoric. Part 2 was published on October 25, 2011.

Creative Commons License
Who Owns Creativity Part 1 by Alexandra White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.