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How would you react if you found a new building that was identical to one your firm had designed? Would you be upset that someone else was profiting from your work? Would you expect compensation?

Copyright laws were established to protect the original work of authors, artists, architects, and others from plagiarism, which is simply a form of theft. Without such protection, there would be little to gain from developing new and better ways to do things. Anyone would be free to wait until you had developed your better mousetrap, then reproduce the design without having to pay for research and development costs.

Although most of us would expect that our work be protected, many show no similar respect for the work of others. AIA has been criticized for its active defense of copyrights for the A201 and other documents, which require that an original document be used for each copy of a project manual.

Not all copying is illegal. Copyright laws make allowance for "fair use", recognizing that some reproduction is reasonable and does not significantly impair the author's ability to control the work.

Unfortunately, many offices routinely copy AIA and CSI documents, as well as pages, chapters, and whole volumes of reference books. I recently saw a copy of a seminar handout, complete with the page that contained only a copyright statement and a warning that copying of the material was prohibited.

Software and electronic images are also protected by copyright laws. Most software is licensed for use on a single computer, but site licenses are usually available at a reduced per-user cost. Installation of a single-user program on a network server is generally a violation of the license, as is "breaking up" a software suite for use by more than one person.

Some software licenses do allow a single owner to install a program on a desktop computer and a laptop computer, provided they are used by the same person. Others require the program to be treated as if it were a book; the program can be used by many people on many computers, but only one person is allowed to use it any time.

Downloadable software is often made available as shareware. This allows one to use the program only for a given period, typically thirty days, before buying it. If it isn't paid for, it must be deleted. The Netscape browser is a popular and much-abused example. Unless a registration fee is paid, use of the browser by a commercial entity beyond ninety days is illegal.

Before you copy anything, read the copyright. It wouldn't hurt to see what Uncle Sam has to say about it, either. All it will take is one disgruntled employee to find out how much "free" copies cost.

Here are some websites that address software copyright issues.

Am I My Brother's Keeper?: Vicarious Liability for Software Piracy, Leslie G. Berkowitz

Want to prevent software copyright infringement in your firm? Here's how, Erin Callaway

Business Software Alliance

1996, 1999, 2002 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA

Web site design and content Copyright  1995-2004 Sheldon Wolfe

Material from CSI Chapter newsletters used with permission.