Intellectual property theft

Intellectual property and its misappropriation weigh heavily on my mind today, especially with regard to the publication of photos without permission from the photographer. As a writer, historian and blogger, I am obviously concerned about copyright in general.

Copyright protects intellectual property

The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (and amendments) protects the moral and legal rights of creators of intellectual property. Ownership of intellectual property remains with the creator of a work. This applies whether or not the creator has registered his or her work.

Although a legal issue, copyright relates also to morality and ethics. People are hurt (or even damaged) when their work is reproduced without their permission. This includes kids copying other children’s work in the class-room. A student at university plagiarising another student’s essay. Passing off, in any way, the writing or art or any other material as one’s own. Using the photographs of another person, including when blogging,  without permission and acknowledgement. Under the Act, it is illegal to publish a photo without permission of its creator.

Personal experience of intellectual property theft

I still smart from the theft of an essay I wrote, perhaps twenty-five years ago. As part of some intensive psychodrama training in a non-university setting, I submitted a piece of work on the topic of psychodramatic roles.  The subject fascinated me, and the end product was an original piece of work. I was proud of it.

A few years later I enrolled in a Master of Counselling course at a Perth university. One of the units in the course involved psychodrama. Imagine my surprise when the lecturer used the exact terminology that I’d developed earlier. You would not believe my chagrin when she provided handouts that were identical to my earlier work.

The handouts differed only in that she had headed the pages with the name of the university and the course. The name at the bottom was hers.

When confronted, she said, ‘I’ve had this material in a file for ages. It’s never had your name on it.’

Sadly, my desire to pass the unit overcame my confidence and my need to establish ownership of the material she’d used. I felt, and still feel, violated by the sharing of my intellectual property without consent and acknowledgement.

Respecting ownership of intellectual property demonstrates integrity. Most of us check sources and take care not to reproduce the work of others. We are careful to attribute ideas to their owners.

Our motto should read, WHEN IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT.


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