Yesterday, November 8, was National STEM/STEAM Day, a day to encourage people of all ages to get more involved in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. As someone who started his career with degrees in astrophysics and earth and planetary sciences, it’s a day that has meant more to me as I advance in my career and speak with younger people who are figuring out their own paths. My colleague Holland Gormley recently wrote a great blog, What I Wish They Taught Me about Copyright in Art School, which will be very valuable to anyone included by the A in STEAM. What about the areas covered by S, T, E, or M?
Copyright was not a topic discussed in the classes I took or something I dwelled on when conducting research. That was probably because the focus was on areas beyond the scope of copyright, such as ideas, processes, procedures, and algorithms. Some of those may more appropriately fall under another branch of intellectual property law—patents—rather than copyright.
However, there are areas where copyright law does provide protections or guidance to those participating in STEAM-related activities. These include
- Scientific articles, course books, and other writings. These writings are generally protected by copyright the moment they’re written. Usually, if you created it, you’re the author and owner of the copyright unless the work is a work made for hire. If you are the author, you may transfer some or all of the rights in your work to a publisher or journal. Publishers and journals, however, may have their own rules about whether or not you can reproduce your work after you submit it or after it is published, so you will need to be aware of their guidelines.
- Computer programs. Copyright covers a programmer’s expression in the source code, but not things like the program’s algorithms, formatting, functions, logic, or system design. If copyright protects it, you can register it with the U.S. Copyright Office. You can also register new versions of the same computer program as long as there is sufficient new creative expression.
- Instructional classes. Many people involved in STEAM fields teach courses, especially at the university level. When teaching you may create lessons, images, audiovisual material, and other copyrightable works. You may also incorporate copyright-protected material from other sources either with permission from the owner or by relying on one of the copyright law’s exceptions and limitations. There are specific exceptions for using material in the in-person and virtual classroom. Our blog post from this past March focuses on copyright considerations for distance learning. There is also fair use. Fair use is a broader exception, but it requires carefully balancing four factors and may not be easy to determine.
- Technical drawings and blueprints. For these types of works, protection is available if there is sufficient creativity. Technical drawings could also contain a second copyright claim. If a technical drawing contains an architectural work, then the architectural work is protected separately as long as it is a humanly habitable structure intended to be both permanent and stationary. For example, a house is covered, but a bridge is not.
If you have additional questions about these items, you can read more in our FAQ, view more online resources like our Engage your Creativity page or Learning Engine series, or directly ask us a question.
Copyright may not be the first topic on your mind when working in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, but without it, you won’t be able to proceed full STEAM ahead!