Three unacceptable word confusions

The local Rotary Club has signs up around town about its winter fundraiser at which it is excepting [sic] donations of canned goods for the local food pantry.

Confusing  words with similar sounds or similar spellings, such as  except and accept, is an error not limited to Rotarians.  In fact, most of us occasionally fall into the trap.

Sometimes we fall  because we aren’t sure of the difference between a pair of words. (It took me decades to master the difference between bear and bare.)

Sometimes we slip because our fingers are used to typing certain keystrokes when the dictating voice in our heads pronounces a particular set of sounds.

Sometimes, though, people are confused about terms that neither sound nor look anything alike. Here are three I’ve run across in the last few weeks that people in the education arena need to know.

1. Reprints and citations

I’ve had a rash of people lately requesting permission to reprint material from my website in term papers for graduate courses.  It’s usually obvious that the individual wants only to borrow ideas or quote a couple of sentences with appropriate credit.

Reprints are duplicates of the original, nothing omitted. A reprint request is essentially a request for a one-time use of copyrighted information. The person who intends to copy the material gets advance permission so as not to be charged with copyright infringement.

By contrast, using a small portion of information from a source in a review or analytical paper is considered fair use within the US copyright law and requires no pre- (or post-) approval from the copyright holder. Fair use does require a citation, but that citation is a matter of ethics and academic etiquette rather than a federal copyright issue.

2. Text and graphics

When asked what kind of material they wish to reprint from my website, people invariably check graphic. In most every case, what they explain they want to use is text. Apparently, they think that anything that is visible is a graphic.

In the publishing world, when text and graphic are used as distinct categories, text is written words, such as the material you are reading now. A graphic is an image, such as a diagram, a photograph, or a sketch. A graphic may include text, but it is more than just text.

A small amount of text may make sense out of context. A sentence, for example, may sum up an entire chapter or book. By contrast, a small portion of a graphic almost never is capable of summing up the entire image.

Anyone who wants to use a graphic  is likely to need to seek permission before using the image unless its use is specifically permitted by a Creative Commons license.

3. Royalties and copyrights

A blogger recently recommended websites where people could get royalty-free photographs, which the blogger said could be used without getting the photographer’s permission. The post left the impression that royalty-free means copyright-free.

Not so.

Royalty free means no payment is required; it does not mean no permission is required. Except in cases of works made for hire, the creator of intellectual property is the copyright holder and has the right to restrict where his property is used.

Unless material is labeled for reuse (with a Creative Commons license, for example) or is in the public domain, photographs and other works, once in fixed form, are considered the property of their creator. The creator doesn’t have to register a work or put a copyright notice on it to own the copyright.

Incidentally, under US copyright law, “copyright free” intellectual property doesn’t exist. In the US, intellectual property goes from copyrighted to public domain without a purgatorial copyright-free period; intellectual property either belongs to one person/organization or it belongs to everybody.

Many of the photographs I use are royalty-free photos from Stock.XCHNG . Although the photographers don’t require payment, they typically require both notice to the copyright holder and a credit line in the work in which they are used.

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