Connecting Stealing Content and Other Copyright Issues

The Internet has turned a lot of honest people into thieves. People who wouldn't dream of walking out of a retail store without paying for a pack of gum have no remorse about stealing online content. Pictures. Blog posts. Funny videos. 

And that's turned copyright issues from "an obscure corner of the law" to "the subject of conversation at picnics and parties," said Christopher Kenneally, director of Business Development at the Danvers, Mass.–based Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), a global licensing and content solutions organization.

Despite what many of us think in this age of incessant sharing, people who create “original works of authorship" — literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works ­— actually have rights. Under copyright laws in the US and other countries, you need permission from the copyright holder to reproduce, distribute, display or perform these works.

So much for making that great aerial picture of a tropical sunset you stumbled upon the background for your Facebook page.

Spreading the Word


Kenneally knows a thing or two about copyright. He's an award-winning journalist and author of Massachusetts 101, a book about the 101 most important events in the history of Massachusetts.  He's reported on education, business, travel, culture and technology for publications like the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and The Independent of London, serves on the Steering Committee of the National Writers Union (NWU) Boston Local and is a member of PEN New England and the Authors Guild. 

At CCC, he's responsible for organizing and hosting programs that address the business needs of authors of all backgrounds, from academics to freelancers. Among other activities, he is host and moderator for an ongoing series of writing conferences called, “Beyond the Book,” which have traveled to Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. The programs are frequently broadcast nationally on C-SPAN’s Book-TV and in Canada on BookTelevision. 

What should we know about copyright? Let's find out. 

Sobel: How did you end up at Copyright Clearance Center? 

Kenneally: I joined CCC in 2001 after being a long time contributor to a number of blue chip publications, in addition to my work at PBS and NPR. I found this an opportunity to give back to my community of colleagues in the news media and book publishing. Among other things, CCC has a mission to promote the value of all copyrighted works and to encourage respect for intellectual property. As a copyright-holder myself, I could identify with that!

Sobel: Tell us about Beyond the Book, the free podcast and educational program of the not-for-profit Copyright Clearance Center. 

Kenneally: The Beyond the Book program explores issues facing the information content industry and helps creative professionals realize the potential of their works. I think of the program as a resource on the business of writing and publishing. As host, I have an opportunity to keep my journalistic skills sharp and I get to speak with a wide range of authors, editors, technologists and researchers from around the world. It’s great to be adding to the knowledge base of people working in an industry that is changing so rapidly.

Sobel: There appears to be a bit of confusion in the world of Intellectual Properties (IP) about the differences and similarities among Copyrights, Patents and Trademarks. Can you elaborate? 

Kenneally: Wow! How much time have we got? Here are a few important differences. Trademark is essentially a form of consumer protection that identifies a product or service as coming from a particular source (think the “swoosh” logo for Nike). A patent must be applied for, and the grant is not automatic. Patents protect inventions that are useful, novel and non-obvious. Copyright is protection for creative expression that is somehow fixed, whether in print or in pixels – including art, dance choreography and sculpture.

Sobel: In the digital age, copyright infringement is bigger now than it has ever been. While protecting the rights of your clients, what do you see as the biggest issues?

Kenneally: The greatest challenge is moving from the home to the workplace. Habits practiced at home and possibly lawful at home may constitute infringement when practiced in a business or academic environment. Of course, the ubiquitous presence in our lives of digital devices, which are essentially copying machines, makes copyright-creation and infringement common. 

Sobel: CCC is based in the US. But does its services extend beyond the border?

Kenneally: Yes, CCC has a European-based subsidiary, RightsDirect. We also have dozens of bilateral relationships with organizations similar to CCC across Europe,  Asia and Oceania, as well as Africa and South America. The Internet makes the global exchange of information as easy as sending an email. Respect for copyright varies widely around the world, but it is growing as more and more countries rely on innovation and IP services for economic growth.

Sobel: What do you want readers to know about the “OnCopyright 2014” conference that will take place April 2 at the New York Academy of Sciences in New York City?

Kenneally: Before the Digital Age, copyright was considered a relatively obscure corner of the law and of relatively low concern even to authors and publishers. Of course, that’s not the case today – it’s as much the subject of conversation at picnics and parties as it is in the office or the laboratory. That makes the work I get to do for CCC exciting and challenging. Anyone who attends OnCopyright 2014 will have a window into our world and, I believe, will go away with a richer understanding of the important issues involved.