by Sarah Wright
It's a Wide World
International intellectual property law is complex, and takes in-depth study to truly understand. This article will focus on what the average teacher and student needs to know about this type of law. As with intellectual property law in the U.S., laws protecting creative work in other countries are typically broken down by category. The kind of protection afforded to a piece of intellectual property will depend on what it is - a song, a book, a mechanical invention, the name of a company, etc. For example, many countries have protections similar to our patent, copyright and trademark laws.
One important thing to remember when considering international intellectual property law is the issue of jurisdiction. This is a complicated issue, and the advent of digital file sharing has drawn a lot of attention to it. One famous example of this is the case of the Pirate Bay, an online file sharing site that is based in Sweden. Major media companies that are based in the U.S. consider the sharing that happens through that site to be illegal, and have tried numerous ways of putting a stop to the Pirate Bay. But since the site's servers are in Sweden, these U.S.-based companies have been mostly powerless to shut down the Pirate Bay.
Of course, if you're not downloading copyrighted material for free, your concerns about intellectual property law are going to be a bit different. As a student or a teacher, you're going to come up against issues that are a bit more straightforward than the conversation around file sharing. Luckily, understanding the ways international intellectual property rules affect you aren't much different than understanding the way domestic laws impact your work.
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Intellectual Property Laws and Education
Let's say you're doing some research, and the most relevant book you can find was published in France. It doesn't have legal protection under U.S. law, but it is protected by 'droit d'auteur' - author's rights - the French equivalent of our copyright laws. Though the chances of being prosecuted for ripping off passages of this book are slim, you're not going to be doing that anyway, right? Ripping off passages of a book would be plagiarism, and beyond any legal implications, the ethical and academic quality implications of doing something like this are serious.
That's something to take comfort in as a student or teacher. As long as you're adhering to academic ethics, you're probably going to be staying within the bounds of what constitutes fair use in any country. If you're just going to be citing a passage, you are probably safe as long as you properly attribute your citation. If you're worried about something a bit more complicated, like copying and distributing passages from a book to students, you may want to do a bit of research into what constitutes fair use in the relevant country. Though U.S. copyright law is fairly forgiving when it comes to educational uses of protected material, this may not always be the case internationally.
If you're interested in taking a look at international education standards, consider what the U.S. can learn from the Finnish education system.