Let’s talk about copyright.
What is copyright?
In the very basic form, copyright is a set of laws that protect authors, artists, and other makers of creative works (like myself) from having their work taken. Any original creation that someone makes is protected under copyright, as long as it’s substantial. This way, someone can’t claim credit for, make money off of, or otherwise take advantage of something they didn’t make. The purpose of it is to encourage originality and protect creators in making a living.
For instance, let’s say I wrote a book, Examples to Prove a Point. This is legally my work; no one else can say it’s theirs, or redistribute it, or otherwise claim it or impede my income from writing it. If my friend takes my book, copies it, and sells it to others, that’s considered copyright infringement, which would give me legal grounds to sue for lost profits. Even if he reworded every sentence in the book and changed the title to Scenarios to Emphasize a Concept or something similar, I may still have grounds to sue. If I can prove that his Scenarios book is still using the same ideas as my Examples book, that’s infringement, and in this case, also considered plagiarism. If he is able to prove that his book is different enough from mine, though, then he gets to keep his claim for that.
This isn’t always how it would go down, though. There exist laws called Fair Use, which basically say that if the new content is different enough from the original content it was derived from, it’s okay to have. This usually is used with parody/remixes, referencing one work to supplement another (like quoting a book), or for purposes of education, news, and a few other exceptions.
Back to the example I had before: let’s now pretend that Examples to Prove a Point is an original song I wrote. I composed it, and therefore own the legal rights to sell and perform it. If the friend decides it has a catchy bassline and decides to take it for “his own” song, that is infringement. He would either have to prove it’s different enough from mine, or be found guilty and forced to pay me. If he made a parody of the song, that’s a different story. If I give him permission to make a parody of my song, he’s okay. Usually, he would have to pay for the rights to use it, which is called royalty.
We have it because people like me work to make our creations, and it kinda sucks if someone else, who did no work, comes along and says “look what I made!” Without copyright laws, anyone could just remake and claim anyone else’s work, and we’d be out of a job. People could just sell the same exact thing for less money and undercut our way of making a living. By doing no work at all, they could take something we spent time making and just claim it, leaving us without a way to support ourselves. Copyright protects us, and without it, the world would be full of unoriginal ideas and credit-stealers. Do we really want that?