Saturday, May 03, 2008

When you see a copyright violation....

So you're on a group, a Yahoo group or some kind of listserv. Consistently you see articles being posted - full text, copy and pasted. What do you do?

First, there's the chance that the offender has actually asked permission to post those articles. So you can't go in guns a blazin' and yelling fire. But you can ask if permission has been granted.

I belong to a Yahoo group used for Crockpot recipes... and I've been turning a blind eye to the posting of entire articles to the list. But a few weeks ago the list mom posted something about how she knows all about copyright and nothing she's been doing has been violating copyright because of the rules of copyright regarding recipes. (Ingredients can't be copyrighted, some descriptions can, but with crockpot recipes the descriptions are very often "put it all in, turn it on")

I emailed her off list and politely informed her that while the recipes might be ok, the posting of the full text of articles was actually not. She seemed irritated. An excert from her missive:

"But as I know that Wednesday's food section becomes Friday's fish wrap...I don't see any harm in posting articles from newspapers. In case you don't get the metaphor...newspaper articles are ephemeral...they exist for a day and are gone. I just don't believe anyone is harmed with me or anyone else sharing them. If you disagree with my policy, you are welcome to leave the list. Just because you are a writer, doesn't mean you should *get your undies in a bunch* over copyright. Some people take themselves WAAAY too seriously."

I tried not to get offended. I was really only trying to mention that she might be better served posting links rather than full text, since technically posting the full article was a copyright violation.

She followed it up with "Cooking is NOT an artform that is protected under copyright. Recipes and cooking information are shared quite freely on the Internet. You may not agree...and again, you are welcome to NOT be a part of the list. I'm a writer myself, and believe that bigger works (magazines, books, etc.) deserve full protection. But a couple of articles from newspapers....really, you find this bothersome? Seriously, Heather, get a life!"

Oops, there I go again, me and my no life and taking things too seriously, almost like it were my job! Oh, wait, it is.

It can be really easy to respond in a snappy manner when someone is so ignorant of the laws and how they apply. It's very black and white. If it's yours, do what you want with it. If it's not yours, you have to get permission. We don't get to choose where copyright should be enforced and where it shouldn't - it's a simple matter of ownership. I responded in a polite manner, I didn't tell her she's an idiot (because she's not, she's just ignorant of the rules).

"I apologize for offending you. I simply wanted to ensure that you were aware of the copyright violations. As a writer, I do make my money from selling the "right to copy" my articles. My "undies" were not in a bunch, I was simply engaging in a little exercise of education in case it was required. Writing is writing and copyright is in place as soon as words are in a fixed format. I'm sincerely sorry that you do not understand that and I hope that as a writer you do not ever have your work used without permission. I am a professional and do tend to take writing seriously as it's how I feed my children. I'm sorry that offends you."

I guess I just struggle with what to do as a writer when you see something "wrong". I'm going with "point it out politely, let go, move on". Or as my husband says "Acknowledge and move on". I actually would feel very bad if this individual had her work used without permission, but I think that would probably be the only way she'd learn that her writing is hers and hers alone. and she deserves to be paid for it.

And I believe she's a writer, whether she's published or not. But I want to tell her, "how do you think your future publisher will view your lack of respect for copyright?" I know that my publishers would drop me quicker than I could say 'intellectual property rights'.

The correct way to point someone to an article is:
Copyright on the Web seems to be a difficult concept for people to understand. If you did not write or create the article, graphic, or data that you found, then you need permission from the owner before you can copy it. Remember, when you use someone's graphic, HTML, or text without permission, you are stealing, and they can take action against you.
Read more ...


H.E.Eigler said...

A mom I know online started a blog where the only purpose was to repost articles. I know she only meant to spread great information and didn't know she was doing anything wrong. So I let her know she needed permission and to ask for it. I was happy to see she took down her posts while waiting for permission. There are reasonable people out there.....and then there are not.

Good to hear your undies are NOT bunched. Mine aren't either :)

Jennifer Kyrnin said...

No bunched undies here either. :-) Unfortunately, that woman's response is much much more prevalent than otherwise. You handled her exactly as I would think you should. You're a writer, you wrote about it. Maybe one more person will read your post and change his/her mind. And if not, at least you got it off your chest. That's what works for me! (Thanks for the link.)

Anonymous said...

You are making the same mistake that media and print industry associations have (and have had to apologize for in many cases). You are assuming that you have the priviledge of speaking for the copyright holder. You don't and you are usurping their perogatives. I am a copyright holder myself and as far as I'm concerned anyone can reprint my work as they please as long as my name is attached to it. In fact I wish they would do so more often. Personally I would take grave offense at anyone asking to have my work taken down and claiming to represent or speak for me without my express permission to do so.

Serenity Now! said...

Hi brave little anonymous... you are missing the part where I didn't ask anyone to take down anything.

You may do whatever you want with your copyright. But that's YOUR choice. I didn't ask anyone to take down anything on behalf of anyone.

I simply pointed out that she was violating copyright if she didn't ask for the right to copy the articles. She admitted that she didn't ask for the right to copy anything.

Please, feel free to post links to those "media and print industry association" apologies.

Jennifer Kyrnin said...

Well, personally, I don't ask to have other work taken down - but I do point out when I see a potential violation that asking permission is the polite (and legal) thing to do.

I wonder if the anonymous writer would be offended if someone asked permission because of something I said? S/he is right that I can't speak for her, but I can give him/her the opportunity to speak for herself.