Opening your email can be a dangerous thing these days.
In a world filled with computers, the problems they cause can be inescapable. Lately, copyright issues and viruses have been in the spotlight, prompting Carnegie Mellon's Computing Services to issue official memos on both subjects. But confusion still seems to hang over both issues. What can you download? What is protected by copyright? And on the other hand, what can you do to protect yourself from computer viruses and the disruptions they cause in your day-to-day computer operations?
One of the first things to remember about information found on the Internet is that, while it's in digital format, it is still owned by its author or creator. "One needs to consider anything found in digital format copyrighted by the author and not something that can legally be reproduced without the author's permission," said Joel Smith, Carnegie Mellon's vice provost for computing services.
Almost all Web content (audio, video, text or executable programs) is copyrighted material. For example, if you visit the Miami Herald's Web site each week to read the latest Dave Barry column, then print it to share with co-workers, you've technically broken the law. "Strictly speaking, that's a violation of copyright," said Smith. "Viewing and reading it on the Web is not. Printing it and distributing it is."
Sharing music and movie files has become more of a widespread, highly publicized problem. Smith explains that Carnegie Mellon acts as an Internet service provider (ISP) for the members of its community. As such, the university is required by laws spelled out in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to respond to complaints about copyright infringement that come from different outlets, like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and authors of text printed on the Web.