View Full Version : Falsehoods in assertions of copyrights?
06-23-2000, 03:13 PM
I don't understand. Everywhere I go on the web, websites always claim, quite falsely, that nothing on their site can be reproduced for any purpose without their consent. So if you say, "I went to joes_coffee.com and they said they have "$1.95 latte specials"" you've infringed their legal rights?
No. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html says that U.S. Code Title 17 says, use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords ... for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.
So all those little bottom-of-page claims are wrong (some books have similar claims, but I have seen books that incorporate the gist of the Fair Use Laws, as well). You do not need anybody's content to publish brief passages of what they've written, as long as you're not making money off of it ("Quotes from The Bell Curve! 10 cents per sentence, 50 cents per whole paragraph!") What constitutes brevity is open for argument, and the law also says that the nature of the work and the size of the copied portion have to be taken into account. That's never never discussed in the little disclaimers. Are these disclaimers written by,
(b) lawyers who never read that part of Title 17 because they had a bastard of a Torts final that weak,
(c) lawyers who are trying to fool us, or
(d) hitting the "Paste" function after having copied it from some other website where you assume the research was done?
I assume it is (c). I'm not talking about the SDMB, even though our little website has similar language. So I don't expect our moderators or General Counsels or anybody to come down here and defend their language. What I'm wondering is, how much can you misrepresent a law without it being a crime? If a lawyer comes over to my house and says, "It's my legal right as per Title 666 of the United States Code to take all of your property", and then walks off with it with the consent he has convinced me that I'm legally required to give, that'd be theft, right?
How about photocopy rooms in college libraries? Why do they print chunks of the copyright laws, but never the Fair Use portions? I always assumed it was because they wanted to make you feel guilty for doing what you pretty much had to do, (i.e., copy portions of non-circulating materials for reference in research papers), but the pro-guilt thing doesn't make too much objective sense. Very curious
06-23-2000, 03:29 PM
I used to work for a magazine that was primarily editorial in nature. We could feel free to scam passages from anywhere with no threat of legal harassment, provided we were making valid editorial comment on it.
The trick here, is that you can't reproduce an entire body of work. You can only call out relevant passages for critique.
For instance, let's say you're doing an editorial review of a John Grisham work. You want to show what an awful writer he is--that's not too hard. So you cut and paste a section of his latest legal thriller into your piece, then point out the flaws in it. You can't reproduce the entire work in your piece--it's too long. Besides, you shouldn't need to.
If, OTOH, Johnnie were to write something that was all of one paragraph long, and somehow managed to get it published as a stand-alone work, you'd probably be in hot legal water if you published the entire paragraph--maybe.
Copyright law is not very clear. However, case after case has shown that the courts side with the spirit of the law, rather than the letter. Those little legal notices only really apply when you are deliberately scamming, for no other purpose than to defraud, i.e., claiming the work as your own.
06-23-2000, 07:20 PM
You can copyright your website. The question is how much can someone borrow and be legal. The answer is "it depends."
It matters how much, for what purposes, and various other factors that go into "fair use." If you took a graphic, you'd be on shaky ground (you've taken the entire graphic), but quoting a line or two is probably OK.
How about photocopy rooms in college libraries? Why do they print chunks of the copyright laws, but never the Fair Use portions? I always assumed it was because they wanted to make you feel guilty for doing what you pretty much had to do, (i.e., copy portions of non-circulating materials for reference in research papers), but the pro-guilt thing doesn't make too much objective sense. Very curious.
The libraries are covering themselves. "Fair use" is up to the courts to determine, and they don't want to pay for a lawsuit (even if they win). Since fair use is vague, it's better to err on the side of caution.
06-24-2000, 01:15 PM
This is related to a question I asked long ago, but didn't get what I considered to be a very clear answer.
What I wanted to do was put up a personal web site that would have, among many other things, some high-quality classical fine art. Take for example, Oath of the Horati by Jaques-Louis David, which has to be at least 130 years out of copyright.
So I found a website that had a good, high-quality scan of it. But from what people told me on this board, the scan of the image was equivalent to a photograph, which makes it copyrighted.
Now I just don't get this. We have an artwork that is so old that it is far beyond copyright. Someone takes a photo of it, and puts it in a book. Then a person scans the photo out of the book, and puts in on their website. But if you download that image and use it on your website, that's when the copyright kicks in?
Here's the short of it: I don't see how it is possible for a photograph that is a true reporduction of an out-of-copyright work to itself be copyrighted. It is not adding to or taking away for artisitic or other purposes from the original public domain image - I could see the case if the person modified the photo, or the photo contained other elements besides the work in question. But if all it is is the photo, with no attempt at artisitic modification, I just can't believe that that person holds any kind of copyright to it. And therefore, a scan of it should be out of copyright, and if you copy that scan I also think that it should not be a violation, so long as nothing is added to or taken away from it compositionally.
And yet, on their websites, they claim "all scans are copyrighted". Some even list the fair use clause, but then add text to it to subvert what I think is the real meaning of it.
Will somone set me straight?
06-24-2000, 02:01 PM
Anthra: Thanks for asking this! I was saving essentially the same Q for next week... I've already posted one copyright Q and did not want to wear out my welcome.
I've encountered exactly what you describe from museums/archives when working on historical video projects.
A museum has a 100+ year-old photo -- that somebody else took, of course -- in their collection. I've got a copy of the same photo in a book that I bought for $10 (and here's my receipt to prove it).
They claim I can't use the book photo because "they own the copyright."
I say, "Sez who?!? I own this book just as much as you own the original! Sure, I didn't create the photo, but neither did you! And if you wanted to keep such a tight control on the image you should have never printed two zillion copies of the book and sold them in your gift shop!"
I mean, isn't that why there's such a thing as Public Domain -- society benefits when creative works become unencumbered after the original creator benefits from his/her limited exclusive use?
Side-bar hijack: I didn't think one way or the other about prez candidate Steve Forbes, but I really admired him for taking a stand against "endless" copyright and patent extensions.
06-24-2000, 05:48 PM
My friend wrote a major book. Everything that anyone said that she quoted in her book, she had to call them or their agent to verify that its correct & get permission.
If you quote someone & that person didn't say that or all of it, well, thats a nono.
06-26-2000, 02:07 PM
RealityChuck said, The libraries are covering themselves. "Fair use" is up to the courts to determine, and they don't want to pay for a lawsuit (even if they win). Since fair use is vague, it's better to err on the side of caution.
That's a good point, but I didn't think you could really be held liable for someone misusing your equipment in a copyright type thing. I guess that's a whole new area of the law, but I think it would be weird if somebody got in trouble because a plagiarist had borrowed their pen. But I concede that college counsels are very weird.
06-26-2000, 02:35 PM
Boris & Reality: Isn't the whole library disclaimer business a result of a successful copyright lawsuit in the late 80's (or early 90's) against a photocopy chain. I remember all the copy shops around NYU got paranoid all at once and stopped copying anything that looked like it might get them in trouble.
06-26-2000, 04:40 PM
Copyright law is, as some posters have already identified, very touchy-feely. So touchy-feely, in fact, it is almost impossible to predict outcomes that are even close to the edges of the law.
You forget what the attorney's job is. The attorney is supposed to represent his client, not inform the public. Yes, I agree that some notices go too far and might even constitute a breach of attorney ethics, but most probably use enough weasel words ("might" "probably" "may" "most") to be accurate, even if very optimistic. BTW, IIRC fraud requires more than a misrepresention, it also requires reliance on that misrepresentation and an identifiable harm.
See my above comment. What you say is probably accurate most of the time (notice weasel words). If someone wanted to pay my rates, There would be very few cases I would turn away. It would hardly matter whether I was representing the plaintiff or defendant. I could point to cases where reproducing the entire work was fair use and others where reproducing 5% was not fair use. It all depends on the specific facts.
IIRC libraries must post that notice to be eligible for some sort of safe harbor from litigation. As long as they post that notice, they can't be sued for what their patrons do w/o the libraries knowledge.
Can you guess what I'm going to say? Right! It depends. Is it an "original work of authorship"? What decisions went into choosing the lense, the portion of the the original picture, the lighting, the angle, etc. If the answer truely is "none," then there is no copyright. However, if the answer is even "a little bit" then copyright protection may attach. As my old boss used to say, "I never had a case I couldn't loose." Given the wrong lawyer on one side and the right lawyer on the other, I could imagine a situation where a judge and jury was convinced that some modicum of creativity was used in the scan.
Actually, if you put a bunch of non-copyrighted pictures in a book, a copyright attaches to the arrangement of the photos.
Many publishers require extra caution just to avoid any litigation.
Well, its sort of like napster, making dual-cassette VCRs, and the Diamond Rio player. Its inviting people to make copies. Sometimes, you can convince the courts that enough legitimate fair users use the system to justify avoiding liability. Sometimes, you can't. Since congress likes libraries, they made an express exception of liability for them.
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