Well I just took a look at my new office, I'm moving out of my inside office to the outside office that I'd given up before we moved. The guy who's in there right now is leaving for Vancouver to explore new possibilities. I go in to check out the space, bothering him in the process hoping that he'll move out quicker. No hope tho'.
Anyway back to the job at hand. Just to keep the pace of my columns inconsistent, this week I'm going to talk about Copyright, in terms of my moral view and a bit about strict legal aspects.
The reason that copyright is a relevant issue is that other than the fact that I review publications here every week, e-mail publications are probably the single easiest format to duplicate. Single click on the "forward" button, type in a new address and, voila, you've got a copy. A far cry from photocopying textbooks in the University library, and even easier than visiting a Web site a copy/pasting info into something else.
It never ceases to amaze me that many people seem to be utterly clueless about intellectual property and the value inherent in media pieces. Someone spent time, brain power, leg work, electricity, tools etc. putting together all media pieces that you see.
The funniest example I ever read was an anecdote from someone at Pixar (the CGI animation house that brought us Toy Story and A Bug's Life). The story goes that they received a e-mail message from a teenaged kid that requested that Pixar send him their full compliment of rendering software as well as all the models they used to create the characters and scenes in the entire Toy Story movie. He seemingly seemed justified in asking for copyrighted material worth tens of millions of dollars. It was obvious to me that this kid was a bit of a loon with a skewed value system, but he obviously didn't see the problem.
Not Acceptable Use
While I'm on examples, I'm going to illustrate two more a little closer to home. Both involve e-mail publications and both show poor judgement on the part of someone.
I subscribe to Gagler's Joke-of-the-day Service and frequently see items from copyrighted sources show up on the list. I tended to ignore it until one day I saw a column from The Cameron Column printed verbatim with no source acknowledgement. Now I happen to greatly enjoy Bruce Cameron's columns, so I figured I should let him know that I saw one of his columns reproduced without permission. I forwarded the info and had a bit of an e-mail chat with him about it. He mentioned that he regularly sees his columns come back to him from other sources without his specified "This newsletter may be distributed freely on the Internet but you MUST include the following subscription and copyright information" section attached. Given the ease of copying, someone along the chain of distribution forgot to include his notice and it continued along "un-authored".
Another example I saw, which almost boggled my mind, was the start-up notice of an e-mail newsletter that was going to deliver a new Dilbert Comic strip daily. The guy involved had no connection with United Feature Syndicate (UFS), Scott Adams or Dogbert. Now I can understand the chain of events that led to the last example - like the game of telephone, messages get altered along the way. But come on, everybody who knows about Dilbert probably has some idea of Scott Adams its creator and should be able to infer that he gets royalties from every publication, and that this type of probably reduces the income that he gets.
Skipping the income portion of the arguement though, the stuff he wanted to distribute didn't belong to him. Just like the sofa in my living room, it is owned by someone and can be redistributed without my permission. It's called theft. The guy running the mailing list put a retraction out and mentioned that the he'd been contacted by UFS and was shutting down the list before it started. I assume they made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
Give Me a Break
Ok. I can see some of the more socialist among you getting your ire (a bit of a nasty word refering to the assumed temperment of the Irish - along the same lines as "Dutch Uncle") up. "He makes too much bloody money as it is." I'd have to agree in a way, but I'd love to be in his position, a creation of mine becomes popular enough that I can live off of its proceeds for the rest of my llife. Part of that is luck, but part of it is a measure of brilliance and hard work.
The thing that I think needs to be mentioned to add perspective to this whole concept is:
If you publish things on the Web or via e-mail you have to expect that there are many people who are going to copy your work and redistribute it to their Aunt Blanch and Cousin Eddie. Be realistic, if you don't want your work copied in an extremely low cost fashion, publish in another medium, like paper, or even better, stone.
If you ask "can these guys really expect it not to happen?" I have to say no.
Now back to the first example above - should someone like Gagler check the sources? Yes. Could he be sued? Legally, I think there'd be a case. He chooses what he puts onto his e-mail list, make advertising revenue from the list, and should do research about sources. Is it likely that he'll be sued? Highly doubtful. Should you sue him if he reprints your column? It'd be a waste of time. Should he be allowed to get away with it? No, but this isn't a perfect world.
Free Distribution Rights
I'm always slightly sympathetic to people who want to rid the world of copyright, freeing the world of its constraints in a very anarchistic way. I believe that it's a reasonably noble pursuit if done for the right reasons. The good or bad problem with this example is that most people who redistribute don't have high notions about information freedom, they're just under-informed, lazy or think "one forward won't matter".
There are some good writers out there that are willing to distribute their work freely by any means as long as a short notice acknowledging the author is kept in place. Bruce Cameron does this with his columns - a pretty nice gesture. Keeping his notice intact is not a very high price to pay for being able to share his wit and humour with your friends.
So back to the beginning, take a look at the information that you forward via e-mail. If at all possible, credit the author by keeping the "credit" portion of the e-mail intact. If you are copying some content from a Web site, try to summarize the information and refer your friends and collegues back to the site for further information. A little bit of effort will ensure that, even if money is not involved, the creator's self esteem will hopefully remain high enough to continue to publish.
Got any comments? Let me know.