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Internet publication does not destroy Copyright

Last week there was a lot of good discussion about an online publication republishing articles from other sources without permission, and with occasional editing.

The editor of the magazine, when contacted by the author of such a republished article, claimed that anything on the internet is “public domain” and that he had been obtaining content this way for years.

Sigh. Where to begin?

Let’s take a moment to look at US Copyright…which doesn’t have an exception for online publication. You still have to affirmatively donate your work to the public domain, or have it be published before 1918 for it to be unquestionably free to use and copy. This is in contrast to some of the principles of the tech community, with collaborative coding projects, and viral open source licensing.

Copyright owners retain ownership and control of their work, even if they publish it online, and even if they don’t have an explicit message reiterating their ownership. Whether you agree with it or not, the current system of US Copyright law defaults to protection, not sharing.

Where the editor may have some justification (and misinformation) is in his evaluation of risk. As previously stated, the two aspects to evaluating legal risk are: 1) how illegal is your action? and 2) how likely are you to be caught? So while the editor may have gotten away with taking other content for years, his behavior is actually against the rules, and he could be held liable to each author for each act of infringement, and each “act” can include each copy of the magazine made, sold, or downloaded.

Update: Magazine takes down Facebook page and “apologizes” for not having writers verify that the writing submitted is actually their own. Kind of ignores the fact that the writer who drew attention to their practices HADN’T submitted her work at all, and nicely attempts to shift blame that way. I think the magazine is attempting to save face, but hasn’t really learned anything except publicity can be bad.

Posted in Tuesday: Potpourri.