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Writing and Rhetoric: Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property Laws

Intellectual property refers to, as the name might suggest, a thing created by the mind (intellectual) that is owned (property).  In the United States intellectual property and intellectual property rights are defined in a series of laws.  These laws, put in place to encourage innovation by granting exclusive rights to creators, fall under three primary categories:     

Copyright Law: applies to forms of artistic expression, including writing, photographs, motion pictures, music, and architecture.  This is the portion of intellectual property law that is of most concern to the majority of students.  Copyright law grants creators of a work the right to distribute, create derivative works, perform, and display their works until the end of the copyright term- typically 70 years after the death of the creator.

Patent Law: applies to inventions, including new machines, innovations on existing technology or items, and new manufactured products.

Trademark Law: applies to anything that is used to represent an item, business, or service, including slogans, symbols, and names.

Intellectual property laws are not just for professionals.  Did you know that anything you create falls under their protection as well?  No need to apply for a copyright, any creative work that is set in a fixed mode of expression- written down, photographed, filmed, built, etc.- is protected.  Of course, for additional security you can register either a traditional copyright or take advantage of alternative copyright options.

If you are interested in registering a traditional copyright you can do so at the United States Copyright Office.

If you are interested in investigating alternative copyright options you can do so at Creative Commons.

Beyond the Law

Think of how you learn.  Certainly you go to class and study, but that is only one aspect.  Every time you ingest information you learn.  Whether talking with a friend, reading a book, watching a news broadcast, or simply walking down the street, all of these activities bring new information into your mind that can be analyzed and transformed into knowledge.

Knowledge creation in the scholarly community takes place in much the same way.  This exchange of information between multiple sources is referred to as the scholarly conversation and is essential for the development of new knowledge and the refinement of old within the scholarly community.  As college students you are now a part of this scholarly conversation.  When conducting research you collect information created by others and analyze it in regards to a particular topic, thus furthering not only your own knowledge, but also the knowledge of any who might encounter your work.  

Since the creation of new knowledge depends so heavily on collaboration, it is particularly important for scholars to clarify which works influenced their own.  A work influenced by valid, well regarded sources is of much greater value to the scholarly conversation than one influenced by wild, sensationalist, and unsupported sources.  Such a work, if not properly cited or if the invalidity of the citations is ignored, can be highly detrimental to the scholarly community, perhaps setting back the progress of new knowledge creation or worse, encouraging the creation of falsehoods as truths.  In contrast, a work that cites valid sources, analyzing and drawing the information from them in innovative ways can itself become an important source of knowledge for the scholarly community, as well as bringing together sources that other scholars can follow in an information trail which may lead them to their own revolutionary ideas.

Work Smarter, not Harder

Writing a paper is difficult work, never mind having to worry about creating citations or keeping track of your sources on top of it!  It's never fun when you complete a project only to realize you have potentially hours of work ahead of you going back to input citations, locate your sources, and create a bibliography.  But if you follow these tips, it can be easier.

Take Notes: As you research keep a record of what sources you consult.  Write down the title, author, url (if digital), and any other identifying information you feel is necessary.  If you are really ambitious, you can create a complete formatted bibliographic entry.  When intending to use quotes or specific passages to influence your own writing, record these, which resource they come from, and their location within the resource.  If you are using digital resources, copy-paste will be your best friend.  Don't be stingy, record everything that may be useful.  This way instead of having to go through your search process all over again to find the information you need, all you need to do is look over your notes.

Use Citation Tools: Tools like Zotero take much of the work out of creating citations, bibliography entries, and keeping track of your sources in general.  With a few clicks Zotero can pull bibliographic information from digital resources.  It can even use Amazon webpages to create bibliographic entries for print books.  Zotero gives you tools to organize this information in whatever way you see fit, so keeping track of your sources is incredibly easy.  When the time comes to create citations or bibliographic entries Zotero can integrate with common word processors to allow for automatic creation of citations and bibliographic entries in a wide variety of styles.  Once the settings are determined, you can simply drag and drop the information from Zotero into your paper.

Follow Citation Trails: If a book or article contains good information, check the bibliography to see what resources influenced the author.  If a specific idea or concept intrigues you, check any citations used referring to that topic.  You can find great additional resources for your own research this way and, as a bonus, a direction on where in the new resource this topic is mentioned as well as an already formatted bibliographic entry.  You may need to adjust the formatting depending on the style you wish to use.

Additional Resources