Copyright Law on the Internet

Published on: 28 Feb 2018

The human brain can be compared to a fascinating machine, constantly eager to create and innovate. It has a remarkable particularity of always finding something that the world could be missing, might that be an idea, a piece of art, a musical composition, or any other creation that it is able to come up with. However, with the need to create, can come the fear of the creation being undervalued or attributed to someone else. From this fear emerged the idea of extending the notion of property, so that it covers not only a person’s possessions but also the works of his or her brain.

Intellectual Property and its Protection

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), “Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names, and images used in commerce”.

Like any other kind of property, IP is protected by the law, by copyright, patents, and trademarks for example, “which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create”, according to the WIPO.

In fact, the protection granted to the IP is so important that it is outlined in article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, titled “right to participate in cultural life”, in which is stated in the second paragraph that “everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author”.

Copyright and the Web

Copyright, or author’s right, is defined by the WIPO as “a legal term used to describe rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works”.

Given that the world today is becoming increasingly digital, more focus has been given to copyright in particular, due to its applicability on a lot of online publications. In fact, online technology has come a long way since the first version of the World Wide Web (WWW), also referred to as Web 1.0, where users could only view or download the data posted on websites. The person browsing was only a passive recipient at that stage. However, this soon changed with the shift to a more interactive Web, referred to, since 2004, as Web 2.0. The content became interactive, and users became recipients, contributors, and participants all at once.

Web 2.0 became with no doubt one of the best ways to share and exchange information. It also allowed the broadcasting of data that could be violating copyright law, intentionally or unintentionally.

Copyright Laws in Lebanon

On the first of August 1924, by virtue of Resolution No. 141/LR issued on the 28th of June 1924, Lebanon signed on the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886), which deals with the protection of works and the rights of their authors.

Thereafter, Lebanon adopted a newer and more modern Copyright Law number 75 by Resolution No. 141/LR issued on the 28th of June 1924, enacted on the 3rd of April 1999 (the Law). The Law was drafted by the legislator to encourage creation and innovation, and to protect the IP, which is a right that is always protected no matter how far the developments in technology go.

According to article 5 of the Law, “the author of any artistic or literary work shall, as a result of the creation of the work, have an absolute property right over his work and shall reserve all his rights without having to follow any formalities”. This indicates that no formal conditions are required, and any creation benefits from the protection of the Law. Hence, the legislator requires nothing but the existence of a “creation”, a term which is not defined in the Law. The Lebanese doctrine considers a “creation” everything that shows the author’s personal touch. It is therefore not sufficient to create something new, but it has to reflect the personality of whom it was created by.

Once something is considered a “creation” according to the criteria mentioned above, it can benefit from the protection granted by the Law. The mode or form in which this creation is expressed doesn’t matter at this point (as it can be “written, pictorial, sculptural, manuscript or oral”) nor does its “value, importance or purpose” (Article 2 of the Law). This means that a web page benefits of the Law’s protection just as much as a highly valued literary work would. That is why, usually, when work is published on the internet without its author’s consent, the person who committed the act of publishing, who is the user, is considered responsible.

So is there any responsibility that falls upon publishers who make web pages available to the public? In general, publishers have an obligation to check the content that is being published on their websites by users, since they are not only responsible for their personal input, but also of the users’ comments and publications.

However, as this could be very difficult to do, and to avoid violating copyright laws, many websites tend to have their own terms of use and guidelines regarding this subject, that fall of course under the general rules set by national and international copyright laws:

1. Blogs

A blog is a website where an individual or a small group of people express themselves freely by writing in an informal or conversational style about themselves, their opinions, interests, ideas, thoughts, or anything they would like to publicly share. Users will be able to read what is written and comment.

Anything shared in these websites benefits from the protection of copyright laws if it falls under the category of “creation” explained above.

2. Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia where anyone can share information and articles, and other users can intervene and modify the content. This means that people’s inputs are combined together, which creates a difficulty in the application of copyright laws.

In this case, users should agree to the terms of use of Wikipedia. In fact, when contributing to Wikipedia’s content, users give up on their right to copyright and agree to “license it to the public” and allow other users to modify what has been shared.

Nevertheless, if someone wanted to share copyrighted content, he or she must obtain the author’s permission in order to do so.

3. Youtube and Dailymotion

If an author’s copyright-protected work has been used for a video on Youtube or Dailymotion without authorization, a notice can be submitted and such video would be taken down. The use of copyrighted work may be allowed without getting the permission from the copyright owner under certain circumstances. This falls under a legal doctrine called “fair use” of which the cases vary between countries.

Moreover, these websites use a system that allows content owners to submit their creations. Therefore, every time a video is uploaded, it is scanned against the database of submissions, and the author is notified in case of a match.

While this fingerprint system assures a decrease in illegal content, it makes it easier to hold Youtube and Dailymotion responsible as publishers, in the cases where a video was kept online despite it matching a copyright-protected work in their database.

4. Facebook and Instagram

The owner of a work can fill a form and submit it to Facebook and Instagram in order to have the post shared without his permission taken down. “Fair use” is also taken into consideration.

Tips to Avoid Infringing Copyright on the Internet

It is very common for a person to infringe copyright on the internet without intending to do so. In fact, giving credits to the copyright owner does not necessarily mean that publishing the content is permitted. This may apply even if the user states that it is a case of “fair use”, or includes a disclaimer that infringing copyright or making profit is not intended. It is also worth mentioning that a user may be infringing copyright even if he or she found the content available on the internet, bought or downloaded it himself/herself, modified the work or added his or her original material to it, or if he or she saw that others have posted the same content as well.

To sum up, the vast space that the internet has given to people to express themselves does not free them from copyright laws. A user must always make sure to get an owner’s authorization before using his or her work, or to check that his or her use falls under an exception to copyright such as “fair use”. In case of doubt, it is recommended to only share content that is of your own creation.

Written by: Yara Fadli