Copyright – Where Do You Draw The Line?

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As a teacher, one of the topics I taught in all of my classes was plagiarism.

In academics, plagiarism is a serious offense and can have severe consequences, from course failure to expulsion.

Students in my classes learn how to properly credit other people’s works and ideas in their own work.

Plagiarism vs. Copyright Infringement

Many people think that plagiarism and copyright infringement are the same thing.

Though they are similar concepts, they are not the same.

Plagiarism is using someone else’s work without giving them credit and is a policy enforced by schools.

Copyright infringement is using someone else’s work without permission and/or compensation (if appropriate) and is a law enforced by the courts.

Plagiarism doesn’t have to include copyright infringement, though it can.

Some works are so old they are not subject to copyright laws – like The Odyssey or works by Shakespeare, for example.

Legally, a student could copy parts of Shakespeare, because the works are not copyrighted.

However, it would be plagiarism if the student did not credit Shakespeare.

Copyright Basics

First, let me preface this by saying that I am *not* an attorney.

If you have legal questions or concerns regarding copyright, consult an attorney in your area/country.

I was curious about copyright laws and Second Life and where users of SL draw the line.

After a bit of basic research, copyright law (which covers written works, music, videos, movies, and electronic/digital works) and is generally in effect for a term consisting of the life of the author/creator plus 70 years.

So if I write a book one day and drop dead the next, the book can be covered under copyright for another 70 years.

However, if the book was written jointly with someone else, written anonymously or pseudonymously, or written while I was working for someone, the rules are different (see Section 302 of the Copyright Law of the United States for additional information).

Contrary to many people’s belief, you do not have to register your work through the Copyright Office in order for it to be covered under the copyright law.

You can, but you do not have to.

Copyright Can Be Messy

When you are talking about copyrights for things like music, it can get even more complicated.

Say you write a song and Taylor Swift sings it.

(It could happen, right?!)

Then you have a copyright on the composition, but Taylor Swift (and her record/production company) have copyright on their recording/arrangement as well.

Figuring out who owns what can get messy.

Music Copyright

Most music you hear in SL is copyrighted.

As a dancer, I used popular music all the time in my routines.

I justified my use because I always purchased the music I used, I didn’t just rip it from somewhere.

However, my purchase only legally entitles me to ‘personal use’ of the music.

It doesn’t legally allow me to share my music file with someone else, nor to use that music in a performance (digital or other).

It’s something you see on YouTube all the time as well.

Someone will make a video using a copyrighted song.

Some will even post a disclaimer about the song belonging to the original artist.

However, the disclaimer is irrelevant.

They could still be prosecuted for infringement.

Are they?

Not usually, because it’s not cost effective.

Have you ever noticed that some videos on YouTube have links to purchase the artist’s music?

YouTube may have an agreement with that particular artist to leave videos that use the song, as long as they add the purchase link.

Even using on-hold music can fall under copyright, according to ASCAP.

Told you it could get complicated. 🙂


If you use Second Life, you’ve probably heard of DMCA – the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

You can read a summary of the act here.

Because you hear about DMCA on a fairly regular basis in SL, and because it is part of the copyright law, I began to wonder where people draw the line.

For example, a quick search on Marketplace for ‘superhero’ netted results that included costumes for Superman, Batman, Spiderman, X-men characters, etc.

All characters copyrighted and owned by large corporations.

I’ve purchased a few superhero costumes, and at least one of them included a notecard warning that the creator would file a DMCA if they found evidence of copybotting or other misuse.

Which would be ridiculous, since the odds that they got permission to use the copyrighted character themselves are slim to none.

There’s a lot of copyright infringement in SL – Star Wars, Star Trek, Disney, Marvel, DC, etc.

Could people be sued for infringement?


Will they be?


For many franchises, they are willing to ignore infringement if it is likely to bring them benefits (more fans) and/or not cost effective to pursue legal action.

Lawyers are expensive. 😀

Copyright law also has a fairly short statute of limitations.

For civil actions, the statute of limitations is 3 years.

For criminal proceedings, it is 5 years (see Section 507 of the Copyright Law of the United States.)

Your Thoughts?

Is it ok to use music as long as you don’t charge?

(Side note:  According to the law, whether you make money or not is irrelevant – if you use the copyrighted work without permission, it’s infringement.)

Should DJ’s in SL have to obtain licenses for their work?

Should dancers have to obtain licenses for music used in their routines?

Should creators have to obtain permission to use copyrighted characters (like Tinkerbell, Captain America, and others) in their creations?

What about items like replicas of the Starship Enterprise or the Millennium Falcon?

As I’ve become more active in various forums, I’ve seen threads dedicated to tracking/outing copybotters and the like.

I don’t play a lot of video games, so the amount of things that are ripped from video games I found surprising.

What about movie rentals in SL?

Is it even possible to keep track of copyright (and infringement) in this digital day and age?

Is there something you won’t purchase because of copyright?

Where do you draw the line?

3 thoughts on “Copyright – Where Do You Draw The Line?

  1. If we buy the it still illegal to use?..i am sure it is for the purposes of making money but.. that has to be very loosely enforced, dances..clubs..strippers lol.. marching bands!…anyways… as easy as it is to go to youtube and DL music i use for dance sets i can honestly say i go to itunes and buy the music with 90% of the songs i use.. even if the video ver is the one i use.. i feel better compensating the people who created the music i use for my projects that are public . So my thoughts ..if you USE there music…i think its right to pay for it…i dont preach that though cause 10% i dont pay for alot lol.

    1. Yes, even if you buy a song, it’s still illegal to use it in a performance without permission. Are you likely to get in trouble because you dance in SL using music? No. But that’s part of the question – it seems to be such a grey area, I wondered what others thought.
      I’m with you – I appease my conscience because I buy the music I use. But it’s still technically illegal. So how do you draw a line without being hypocritical?

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