Texas A&M Honors Student on Writing, Creativity, and Copyrights

Editor’s Note:  The essay below, by freshman honors student Katrina Rambeau, is from the Honors and Undergraduate Research Blog of the Texas A&M Honors Program:

The ability to write is something that many people overlook. Writing does not apply simply to English majors; it is a skill that all members of the professional world need. Writing, blogging, and social media are a few of the ways that people communicate today. At many universities, writing is valued, but still not as much as it should be. Simple email etiquette is the perfect example: forgetting to address the recipient, failing to use proper grammar, and neglecting a closing remark are all egregious errors that should be taught to students so that when they email their professors they are paying them proper respect.

I have often thought to myself, instead of two kinesiology classes, why not require one kinesiology class, and one required “writer’s prep” class? While there are classes like that offered here, I think that their importance is undervalued. I am often frustrated when students think that they will not use writing again after high school because they undoubtedly will.

I am a science major and often times I find myself missing the allegorical and introspective English pieces that I used to write in high school. I miss that writer’s “fluff,” or pizazz when I write Chemistry papers. However, my strong foundation in writing allows me to write concise and intelligent science papers. In science the prepositional phrases go away and extraneous words become unimportant, despite their stylistic value. No matter what kind of writing is necessary for a given class, there is a basic foundation that should be emphasized to prepare college students for the professional world. Whether a student is an English major preparing to write a book or a science major preparing a periodical for a medical journal, writing is a necessity for success in the real world. Literacy alone is a respectable skill for all professionals.

Creativity is an intrinsic part of the writing process. Expressing oneself creatively entails publishing one’s intellectual material. After attending a seminar given by Associate Professor Gail Clements, I learned a great deal about the importance of intellectual property.  There are many rules about plagiarism and copyright, especially in today’s world where the increase in self-publishing options has become more apparent.

I have a WordPress blog where I post much of my more creative ideas, especially when I am in need of a creative rampage after writing a perfectly stagnant and statistical science paper. Interestingly, the blog served as the perfect example for Professor Clements. Professor Clements made the point that anything that I post on my blog is mine. My blog was not created to generate profit; it was merely a fun creative exercise. Let’s pretend for a minute that I am using my writings to earn some money. Let’s say another blogger copies my piece, and posts it on their blog and starts to profit from my writings. This is not allowed. In other words, unless I permit others to share this material on their websites, I have the right to sue them for using my information inappropriately.

I went to Paris this summer and I took a lot of pictures at the Louvre museum. One of my blog entries had several pictures of my trip, but I was careful to avoid putting any works of art on there. I decided to opt out of posting anything that I had taken pictures of in the museums.  Fair Use is essentially the permission to use certain copyrighted material without obtaining that permission from the artist. Fair Use protects people heavily in regards to social media and the Internet but art is a completely different story.

If I were to post a picture of a copyrighted work of art on my blog I would be violating the ordinances of Fair Use. The only way I would avoid this violation would be to get permission from the owner, or, if it is an old piece of artwork like the Mona Lisa the age of the painting supersedes the copyright. The discussion of Fair Use was probably the most complex part of our discourse.  There are a lot of details that surround Fair Use but the best advice I learned is that it is better to err on the side of caution when publishing other material that is not your own.

The conversation covered a range of topics: The time limit on copyrights, privacy as an interwoven part of copyright and basic right, and the fact that you cannot copyright or own an idea. Ideas need to be “set in stone” or written down before a person can claim it as their own. Overall, the seminar proved to be highly educational and was the perfect example of the kind of class and information that needs to be taught to college kids. I feel that this is exactly why we students need reinforcement and education about writing in today’s world.

Many people think that the basic high school English class is preparation enough for the real world. This is not true and this seminar is just one example. The creative world around us has broadened with the presence of the Internet and social media. It is important that students understand the intricacies of issues like copyright and privacy in writing and beyond, in order to avoid issues in the future. Only then will students be able to access their true scholarly potential.