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Author Topic: The Ethics of Sharing Information  (Read 8170 times)
Darkhawk
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« Reply #15: April 27, 2010, 02:43:18 pm »

I am not a lawyer, so it's always possible that I'm just out of the loop on this one--but I would think that if any court had made a ruling that declared copyright law null and void on the Internet, it would've made an awfully big splash.  While there are a lot of people on the Net who operate under Creative Commons licensing (which generally tends to involve allowing for redistribution in some form) or who have voluntarily declared their own work to be in the public domain (or just don't care about enforcing copyright), there are also a lot of people on the Net who are very concerned with protecting their rights concerning their intellectual property.  I can't see a decision like that going by without provoking an uproar.  As that hasn't happened, I tend to think that copyright is still in full force on the Internet.

You are correct.  Publication on the internet is simply another form of publication.
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« Reply #16: April 27, 2010, 08:00:17 pm »

I have realized that I left out an important point in my initial reaction:  This isn't a situation where what you "feel" has any bearing on the situation.  "Public domain" and "copyright" are terms that have actual legal meaning.  They are not subject to what one school or another "feels" they should mean; they are subject to the interpretation of the courts enforcing copyright laws. 

The basic law is this: anything that can be put into a fixed form (text, print, image, video, audio, dance notation, whatever new technology comes up next decade) is copyrighted unless it meets one of a few exceptions (noted below). It can be online, it can be in physical format. If you take a picture of an art object, the picture is a copyrightable work separate from the artwork.

Copyright (except for the exceptions) happens automatically. You don't need to register it, include a copyright tag, or anything else. (You used to have to include a tag: that's no more). Registration is very helpful if you want to sue for damages, but it's not otherwise necessary. It includes a range of rights, including duplication, distribution, and public performance, which is where things get especially important online.

The major exceptions:
- Anything the government produces as the government. (This includes all the obvious stuff, like government documents, but also things like photographs, the recently released online versions of the Foreign Service language courses, and all sorts of other things.) All these things are public domain automatically.

- Anything that is a purely factual list that could not have an alternate meaningful different expression. (The listings in the phone book are not copyrightable, though the layout of the phone book would be. The ingredients in a recipe aren't copyrightable, but the description of how to make the recipe is.)

- Anything that the creator deliberately puts in the public domain. (Once you do that, you can't take it back, it's always in the public domain.)

- Creative Commons is essentially a variation of the above point and the fact that the copyright holder can always grant permission for a given use: essentially, Creative Commons is a relatively simple way to mark certain kinds of uses have permission from the copyright holder.

And though it doesn't come up in this particular thread yet, with books, it's important to remember that the author may or may not be the copyright holder: in a number of cases, copyright is assigned to the publisher as part of the book contract. (It may revert to the author at a particular point, like if the book has been out of print for X years.) So authors may or may not be able to give permission directly.

Jenett, taking off her librarian hat with the side-feather of information policy.
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« Reply #17: April 28, 2010, 09:34:06 am »


I work in publishing, and I can't even begin to tell you how much trouble it causes when authors grab pictures off the net to use in their books because they're "public domain." No, no, they're not. See that copyright notice right there on the page that you got the picture from? That means it's copyrighted. Argh.

(Sorry, pet peeve.  Smiley  )

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« Reply #18: April 28, 2010, 09:45:12 am »

And though it doesn't come up in this particular thread yet, with books, it's important to remember that the author may or may not be the copyright holder: in a number of cases, copyright is assigned to the publisher as part of the book contract. (It may revert to the author at a particular point, like if the book has been out of print for X years.) So authors may or may not be able to give permission directly.

Good point.  Sorry--I knew that, but got so caught up in responding to the idea that anything on the Net is up for grabs that I neglected to make the distinction.
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« Reply #19: April 28, 2010, 09:58:34 am »

The person who created it, perhaps?

"On the Internet" does not equal "in public domain".  It's not free for the taking just because it's there.  Copyright does not disappear when you post something online.

its also polite if going to quote something (or use as a source) from the web, to look on the site and see whether the author/creator has said anything about copyright or about reproducing their work!
for example some people say things like 'feel free to use this picture [or whatever] but please credit me'.  others say 'if you want to use any of this material please email me to ask permission.'
If there was nothing like this on the site, I would just put the link and citation for courtesy and to avoid ill-feeling.  (also avoiding confusion if it turns out the 'author' as you thought, had actually copied the info from elsewhere!)

if citing a book I believe its customary to have author, publisher and year, so that wouldn't be an issue if the copyright rested with the publisher.
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« Reply #20: April 28, 2010, 03:50:44 pm »

As that hasn't happened, I tend to think that copyright is still in full force on the Internet.

Okay, we've sufficiently established that Rowanfox knows nothing about copyright laws.

That being said, how the heck can you copyright something written on the net? It has no provable publication date. How do you prove it is yours? If it is not required to register copyrighted material, how does one protect online information?

I am not saying that I approve of anyone claiming someone elses' information as their own, I don't! Pasting a copyright note to the webpage and asking folks not to copy it or claim it for their own is all fine and good. But isn't it sort of like pinning a note to your bike in the rack and asking no one to take it?

I'll step back from this now as I have done enough damage with spreading incorrect information. I had no idea that copyright was automatic, I always thought it was like registering a patent.
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« Reply #21: April 28, 2010, 04:40:54 pm »

That being said, how the heck can you copyright something written on the net?

You write it, it is copyrighted.  Period.  It has been put in a set form.  I don't understand how "can" is in question; it's done.

If you then publish it on the net, it is on the net.  Completely unrelated.
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« Reply #22: April 28, 2010, 06:16:12 pm »

That being said, how the heck can you copyright something written on the net? It has no provable publication date. How do you prove it is yours? If it is not required to register copyrighted material, how does one protect online information?

Two different questions here. Darkhawk's answered the first one, which is "It's copyrighted as soon as it's in fixed form, which includes posting."

The next question is how do you handle it if someone uses your stuff. That one's more complicated. In the US, this is covered by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which has requirements for how you deal with these things. The DMCA is designed, in part, to protect hosting providers whose users post copyright violations on their site, *as long as* they take steps to remove them when properly notified.

Since most violations these days involve an individual user posting something on a site hosted by another company in some format (whether that's a webhosting service, a forum, a journalling or social networking site, whatever), here's the generic steps for that situation.

All of the following presume that you are either the copyright holder or are legally and formally authorised to act instead of the copyright holder (which does usually involve a legal contract of some kind: a lawyer could act for you, for example, but your friend Jane can't act for you just because she sees your stuff and knows it's yours.)

First:
Contact the poster directly if they give you any option to. Sometimes, people really legitimately don't know that it's wrong, and education can work better (and faster!) than a large stick of legal implications. Give them a reasonable time to respond (the law doesn't suggest a number, but 3-5 days is a good range, maybe a bit longer over major common vacations when people might be away from the computer.)

A small stick is fine: a "I see that you have posted X, which I wrote in [whenever.]. As noted at [original location], it is under copyright. Can you please remove it by [date]? Otherwise, I will need to pursue removal under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act via your hosting service, which could have legal and hosting implications for you that I'm sure you'd rather avoid."

If that doesn't work:
1) Figure out who their hosting provider is. 
Service providers are required to make available a DMCA report address of some kind - it's often in their FAQ, Terms of Service info, or available through their support address.  Generally DNS searches will help you figure this out, but that's a whole topic of its own. (In general, a plea of "I think there's infringing material on X site, but I can't tell who to make the report to!" around a few friendly geeks will solve this one pretty easily. I note that I am a friendly geek happy to see what I can dig up on this kind of thing if you send me details.)

Sites are required to have someone assigned to deal with DMCA issues - but someone, say, providing hosting to their friends, or running a small hobby site may not understand that. That's why you may need to climb a little further up the ladder to the people actually running the servers, who have a vested interested in not paying massive penalties for DMCA violation.

2) Before you contact them, prepare a properly formatted DMCA notice. This includes:
- A physical or electronic signature of copyright holder (you, presumably, or someone you've authorised to act for you). (Some sites require a physical letter, some will accept an emailed letter under penalty of perjury. They'll generally tell you up front.)

- Identification of the material that you claim infringes on your copyright - this is the original source material. Generally, you provide the URL of the original if it's online, a representative list of URLS if lots and lots of material has been copied.

- Enough information for the site to identify exactly which places on their site have the infringing material. Again, this will generally be a URL, though providing additional info ("Blog entry titled X posted at Y date") can also be helpful.

- Sufficient contact information for the site to contact you - address, telephone, email address, etc. (again, different sites can set their own requirements, and will usually tell you.)

- A statement saying that you belief that the material used in this way is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.

- A statement saying that under penalty of perjury, the information provided in this report is accurate, and that you are authorised to act on the behalf of the owner/are the owner of the right being infringed.

3) Note that if you claim copyrighted materials that aren't yours, file a false claim, or otherwise misrepresent the case, you can be responsible for damages and/or legal fees.

Also note that if the use is in the realm of fair use, things get a lot messier: for example, if someone quotes an essay of yours, but breaks it up into paragraphs, with new and original content analysing your essay, that might be considered fair use (because it's use that extends academic knowledge in the field, and it also is adding substantial new and original content to the original work.) Cases like these have to be decided in court, and that *is* complicated and messy, because you have all sorts of issues of where do you file, given that this is online material.

4) The site will review the information and respond within a reasonable time frame (often they'll tell you).
(If they don't respond at all after, say, 2 weeks, go up the ladder another step.)

Larger sites generally send an email to the person who posted it, saying, essentially "We've received a copyright takedown request for [item]. We have removed it from the site." and information about filing a counter-takedown notice - which basically means agreeing to be sued if the copyright holder wishes.

The EFF actually has a really nice description of how this works on YouTube - the DMCA section, part 3, is the one you want, and the page is http://www.eff.org/issues/intellectual-property/guide-to-youtube-removals .

The downside is that if you don't wish to sue *and* the person files a counter-notification, there's not much the site can do. They are not a court, they can't decide whether a particular use is legal under fair use or other possible exemptions. They can't determine ownership of copyright. All they can do (and all that the law requires them to do) is facilitate the initial takedown request.

In practice, all of this works fairly well if it's straight one-on-one duplication of someone's work, and the removal is really clear cut. It works okay with academic/review/related uses (because we've got a good idea what this looks like in print, and have some precedents.) It works really lousily with transformative works (say, someone taking clips from a video and combining them in a new way, making an icon from a still from a commercial film, etc.)

And in practice, pursuing the legal option beyond a request to the provider only makes a lot of sense if you are
a) actually losing money from someone else's use
b) have registered your copyright previously
c) are therefore seeking damages.

(As I mentioned, you usually need registration to stand a chance of qualifying for significant damages: otherwise, you're at best probably looking at recovery of court and related costs based on current precedent.)

I *strongly* suspect there's going to be new legislation sometime this decade about this - at least about how to handle the provider reporting part and resolving legal cases for the simple stuff much more easily. But we're not there yet. In the meantime, for the people who just took someone else's stuff 'cause it looked cool, and didn't know better, the DMCA process works okay.

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I had no idea that copyright was automatic, I always thought it was like registering a patent.

RowanFox - you're enough older than I am that when you were initially learning about this, that might have been true. The rules changed significantly in the late 80s around whether you were required to register it, or mark it as copyrighted via a copyright statement. (i.e. Work copyrighted by Jenett, 2010). But these days, nope.

Copyright also doesn't have to be defended to be maintained, unlike a trademark. Someone can be using your copyrighted material for decades, and you can suddenly find out, and take action. With trademarks, if you don't act within a relatively short time of realising the infringement, you can lose out on penalties.

Useful links:
http://www.copyright.gov/ - I recommend their FAQ and the Teachers nad Students link for folks who want to learn more
http://www.eff.org/issues/intellectual-property/guide-to-youtube-removals - while YouTube specific, this does a great job of laying out a bunch of the most common issues (especially around computer review vs. real human review.)
http://www.teachingcopyright.org/ from the EFF also has good educational material
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« Reply #23: April 29, 2010, 01:00:40 am »



RowanFox - you're enough older than I am that when you were initially learning about this, that might have been true.

okay......ouch (LOL)

Jenett, thanks so much for the info. I realize the original post was more about the ethical practice of "sharing", but it is always good to have a solid grounding in facts; copyright is a legal term and thank you so much for sharing the "laws" as it were.

I might be an old dog, but I am still learning new stuff. (I'm much too dignified to do tricks, however Smiley )
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« Reply #24: April 29, 2010, 01:14:44 am »

Okay, we've sufficiently established that Rowanfox knows nothing about copyright laws.

That being said, how the heck can you copyright something written on the net? It has no provable publication date. How do you prove it is yours? If it is not required to register copyrighted material, how does one protect online information?

I am not saying that I approve of anyone claiming someone elses' information as their own, I don't! Pasting a copyright note to the webpage and asking folks not to copy it or claim it for their own is all fine and good. But isn't it sort of like pinning a note to your bike in the rack and asking no one to take it?

I'll step back from this now as I have done enough damage with spreading incorrect information. I had no idea that copyright was automatic, I always thought it was like registering a patent.

My father has a seeable copyright notice on his book.  ANd a nonobvious one in the code.  So so far, all he has to do is ask the ISP's to look at the code and notice his copyright, when the oh so ethical cubmasters object to taking the book down and simply linking to my father's site. And I don't know how it works, but you can date the internet.
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« Reply #25: April 29, 2010, 12:40:59 pm »

Two different questions here. Darkhawk's answered the first one, which is "It's copyrighted as soon as it's in fixed form, which includes posting."

I would note that posting is publication - having it sitting on one's hard drive is sufficient to set it in a fixed form.

I think it's worth distinguishing the two, for a variety of reasons.
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« Reply #26: April 29, 2010, 01:14:16 pm »

I would note that posting is publication

This is why e-zines and magazines that want previously unpublished work will generally not consider things you've posted online.  There is some wiggle room if they want the piece, but you always have to let them know that's it's been posted, even just on a message board or private online journal.

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« Reply #27: April 29, 2010, 02:23:57 pm »

I would note that posting is publication - having it sitting on one's hard drive is sufficient to set it in a fixed form.

I think it's worth distinguishing the two, for a variety of reasons.

Good point. I was actually thinking of the other variety - where someone posts it, but they don't retain an individual copy of it for themselves. (I am, for example, not going to save this post to my hard drive with all my other deathless words.) Still copyrighted. Still in fixed form. It's the fixed form part that matters.

(I remain, for example, delighted by the idea that dance notation counts as copyrighted.)
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« Reply #28: April 29, 2010, 02:49:58 pm »

Still copyrighted. Still in fixed form. It's the fixed form part that matters.

And thus we come around to why there is a long-standing tradition of attribution on parts of the internet: it's fair to quote people's words to reply to them so people know what's going on, but it's important to give credit.

(One of the things that I appreciate about the Cauldron's quoting rules is that they follow Usenet netiquette.)
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