Monday, August 9, 2010

What's Your Definition of Fair Use?

I may have been a little lax about copyrights back when I was in high school. Sure, we all knew not to plagarize, but that was about as far as copyright education went. Reading and hearing about the Napster lawsuits opened my eyes though, and I have to say, that's all it took for me to see copyrights as something that also protected artists' (and authors') paychecks.

However, I read this article on the measures one newspaper is taking to protect it's copyrights, and I cringed. Sure, these people who are sued for infringement can defend themselves by claiming Fair Use, but I really dislike companies using lawyers like battle axes.

So, if you read the linked article, tell me what you think: Were the lawsuits fair? And also, what, in your mind, constitutes Fair Use, as it relates to books, the internet, music, movies, etc?


Ransom said...

Well, since you ask: I'm a copyright disestablishmentarian.

Questions of Moral Right aside, the only positive purpose copyright serves (stop me if you disagree) is to help the author get money by selling (or otherwise licensing, usually with provisions of exclusivity) the copyright to a publisher.

Imagine you've invested a great deal of effort into producing a creative work. Your blood, sweat, tears, and sleepless nights have forged a novel that, for certain bright stars of the rising generation, will redefine what it means to be a young adult. Or something.

Now imagine that for some reason (which you discover afterwards) you can't make any money on your work. Maybe because everyone reads it on a website. Maybe because I get a seat on the Supreme Court and ruin copyright law. Maybe you go bankrupt, and your creditors get a judgement that allows them to garnish all your royalties. Whatever.

Now ask yourself: If you could go back and do everything over, knowing what you would know afterwards, would you still write it?

If the answer is "Yes", then copyright is secondary to your creative process, and you can comfortably join me in a quest to rid the world of copyright's evils. (If you can't think of any, I'll help).

If the answer is "No", then you're in it for the money. I have other books to read, and you should probably just get a real job. No offense or anything.

Mel said...

The suits seem unfair. I think you have to give credit where credit is due. As long as they are citing where the information is coming from, there is no reason they shouldn't be able to use it. Isn't that what research papers are all about?

Hmath said...

Ransom, you're too funny!

Here's my thought - give credit, and encourage people to see what you thought was cool enough to mention in the first place.
Generally, I see multiple mentions and partial postings etc. on blogs as great advertising. I'd be fine with people doing that with my work.
That said, I have to disagree with Ransom's comment on people just doing it for the money and having a lot of other good books to read.
However people feel about the Twilight series, I think most people would agree that the proliferation of Midnight Sun was financially damaging to Stephenie Meyer. I'm really not a fan of pirated video, books, etc. being widely available online. I'd rather pay to see it in it's intended published form (best foot forward) and encourage someone who's made something I like to make more stuff I like.

Though I do think that copyrights are too long. My husband mentions Disney as being the reason for that, but I don't know if that's fact, myth, or conspiracy theory.

Meredith said...

Ugh, that really pisses me off. It's a pretty easy case of fair use. I would love to see one of those suits actually brought before a jury because I'm pretty confident the blogger would prevail.

Holen, your husband is 100% correct. Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998, but it was pretty well understood that it was the "Mickey Mouse Act" because it was passed right as Mickey was set to enter the public domain. The Disney lobby is a powerful beast. :)

I have to respectfully disagree with you too, Ransom. Just because I'd like to stop my intellectual property from being used for other commercial purposes doesn't mean I'm in it just for the money.

Ransom said...

I know that "you're in it for the money" is something of an oversimplification. My question is: if it's not about the money, what is it about? "Creative control"? What does that mean? And why is copyright the right tool for that job? (Hint: I think it isn't.)

The case of Midnight Sun is an interesting one. Stephenie Meyer's draft of the work was leaked, and she became so distressed over the incident that she discontinued work on the project, and never released it. Have I got that right?

HM, you said that you are happy to pay for your books, and that you love to see them in the form the author intended. I think that's a sentiment common enough that Ms. Meyer would have made money if she had followed through with her project. I would even say that a good chunk of that would come from people who read it "illicitly" online. We will never know what the actual financial impact of the incident was.

To Ms. Meyer and others in her position, I say: haters gonna hate. If you love your book, you'll write it no matter what anyone says. Also: I know people who would love to have your problems. "Oh no, I'm so popular that my book is a hit before it's even written". That being said, I feel your pain. Until you publish, these are your private documents, and having them leaked around willy-nilly is an invasion of your privacy. It would probably be worse to have the details of your (hypothetical) painful ongoing divorce on the front page of the tabloids, but I still don't envy you.

Copyright is not a tool to protect your privacy. I think that trying to make it into one will cause more mess than it might fix.

Debra D. said...

I'm afraid I have to agree with whoever said "legal but preposterous" in the article. I mean, it's fairly simple to ask someone to take an article down--the vast majority of bloggers are probably using the articles for fun purposes and making zero money of off them, anyway. But to sue for $75k on first offense? Just, ugh.

Curious to see what my (attorney) hubby thinks of this.

Anyone know how the cases went in court?