Friday, January 28, 2005

Copyrights and wrongs

Here's a great article I just picked up from It's one of the best explanations of copyrights (and wrongs) I've ever come across:

Who owns the words you're reading right now? if you're holding a copy of Bookforum in your hands, the law permits you to lend or sell it to whomever you like. If you're reading this article on the Internet, you are allowed to link to it, but are prohibited from duplicating it on your web site or chat room without permission. You are free to make copies of it for teaching purposes, but aren't allowed to sell those copies to your students without permission. A critic who misrepresents my ideas or uses some of my words to attack me in an article of his own is well within his rights to do so. But were I to fashion these pages into a work of collage art and sell it, my customer would be breaking the law if he altered it. Furthermore, were I to set these words to music, I'd receive royalties when it was played on the radio; the band performing it, however, would get nothing.

Bloggers and print journalists and others may quote snippets from articles like this for the purpose of discussion or criticism under the doctrine of Fair Use. But reprinting an entire article would infringe on the author's copyright, and that's why blogs like this one will link to articles rather than just copy and paste the things on our own sites. And, no -- "giving the author credit" does not make everything all nice and legal. You must obtain permission before using someone else's material.

I know some of you balk at having to chase all over the internet to read stuff like this. But this article is absolutely worth your time, particularly if you do any kind of writing.

If you're insatiably curious like me, you'll probably have some questions after you finish reading the article, which addresses the issue of "digital environmentalism" (downloading music from the internet, copying DVD movies, and so on), so be sure to run over to the U.S. Copyright Office (which is under the Library of Congress umbrella) and check out their FAQ ("Frequently Asked Questions") pages. The site is quite well put together and the explanations of the legal ins and outs of copyright are surprisingly easy to read.

Which really makes me wonder. That stuff had to have been written not merely by lawers, but by lawyers in the employ of our federal government. Where on earth would they have learned to write in plain English?

I suppose it's too much to hope that we might persuade that bunch to translate the tax code next.


Small Blue Thing said...

Uf! It's quite difficult to quote, yes. But for instance, under Spanish laws, a non-profit site or media can quote a text or photograph _while crediting author's name and showing that the site is really non-profit.

Blue Thing

Brenda Coulter said...

Yeah, that's one of the things that makes the internet so tricky.

Small Blue Thing said...

Well, I do know. At least _under our laws, just Spaniards, you can't register a domain with .org if you can't even proof your site is a non-profit one.

I'm sure it's easy to trick, but that's life. Trying not to trick, not to be tricked.

I wonder... will Suzanne Vega ask for closing my blog because of her quote on my profile? :(

Blue Thing