Intellectual Property, Public Domain, and What Are Even Citations

Found in the Internet Wilderness (aka Reddit), shared on social media, and the inspiration for this post.

Hat tip to Mistress Sunneva de Cleia for sharing the horrendous screencap above.

Note: I wrote this very quickly as a response to the image at the very beginning. If I got something wrong, or if you think something could be cleared up, please leave a comment and let me know. We’re all here to help and learn from one another.

Hey. Internet-person.

We need to talk.

We need to talk about what “intellectual property” and “public domain” and “citations” actually mean. Because I think if you knew what they meant, you wouldn’t say things like in the comment at the beginning of this post, and because you’d understand that pointing to the people who said something before you said it actually strengthens what you’re trying to say.

Intellectual Property

I won’t pull out any fancy legaleze here, so don’t worry. It’s a pretty broad term, but Intellectual property is basically:

  • Anything intangible (that means you can’t touch it) you create using your brain-meat and creativity;
  • that is new and didn’t exist before you thought of it (derivative works, meaning works that build off other works are okay); and,
  • that you could apply for a patent, copyright, trademark, or some other legal protection for – meaning that it has to be something that can be turned into something that someone else can interact with – an image, sound, words, invention, etc.
Oh look! A video about IP that’s super easy to understand! Look at that! It’s really a series of seven videos, but… still. It’s trying to take a complex thing and make it simple in 10 minute chunks. Plus, Crash Course is neat.

So okay – for the purposes of our discussion, for which I am going to assume the author of the screenshotted comment was snarking against someone asking for them to credit them, and because this is an SCA blog – let’s work on the assumption that your Intellectual Property is some documentation you’ve written for an A&S project. It’s also the object you made, and any sort of diary you kept to document the process – be that in a blog, in a notebook, or a series of Facebook posts. It’s all Intellectual Property, and it’s all yours – though you may have given some rights to some other entities when you posted it online, such as Facebook or YouTube. Aren’t Terms of Usage of Service great?

Citations

In your documentation, you’re trying out a new method for doing a thing based on a supposition you’ve made after doing your research. Fun! Okay – but you still have to point to that research. That research is the intellectual property of the people who did that research and published it. Citing them – giving them credit – supports your claims and makes you a more credible person. If you cite a source to support a claim, or to lay out the groundwork which you then draw your suppositions from, the people who read your work can look back at those sources and go “Oh! Okay – I see how they got there. Neat!”

If you don’t cite these sources, you’re violating the Intellectual Property Rights of those researchers. You’re basically claiming to have done all the work they did – and you didn’t. If you cite the source, you’re thanking the researchers and acknowledging the work they did. It doesn’t make you lesser than the researchers you cite. Building on what others have done before you is important. Claiming what they did as your own is plagiarism – the theft of intellectual property.

Another video! This one has PUPPETS. 😀

Public Domain

“But if it is on the internet, it’s in the public domain.”

Nope.

The Public Domain is where things previously protected by copyright, patent, trademark, etc. go after that protection has expired. Currently, in the US, that’s 70 years after the death of the author. If it is a work produced by the US Government, it’s likely already in the public domain. Anything published (again, this is US law) before 1924 is fair game.

“Okay, so if it is in the public domain, then I don’t have to cite it?”

I mean, I guess not technically? But it’ll still be pretty nasty of you to do so. It’s not really theft, but again – citing your source is about more than just avoiding prosecution. The Night of the Living Dead is in the Public Domain, but you didn’t write or film it. To not credit Romero makes you just look… bad.

It’s not a good look.

So don’t be gross. Use citations. Give credit to the works you’re building off of – whether they are professional researchers/academics or fellow SCAdians. Be honest about where you found stuff. Be honest about when you’re drawing conclusions. This is how we all benefit and get better and learn from and with each other.

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