Thursday, May 14, 2009

Flagrant Copyright Abuse- Am I Guilty?

Recently, there has been a little bit of a tussle about my blogging about the LDStorymakers conference. I’ve been reading the recent messages with consternation, anxiety and alarm. I have to confess I’m guilty of this offense and if I've hurt any feelings, that was never my intention. One person went so far as to say blogging about it was a “flagrant abuse of copyright.” Although cleverly penned, this isn’t legally accurate.

Some years ago my mother wrote a book called “Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner.” One of the chapters was called “The Daffodil Principal.” The book was published by Deseret and did quite well- so well, in fact, that Simon & Schuster reprinted it as a national release. A few years after it went out of print, this chapter ended up on the internet. It was being emailed back and forth verbatim as a spiritual thought/ motivator without any mention of the author. My mother was aware of it and not pleased.

Later, my mother was sitting in BYU Women’s Conference, listening to a certain celebrity’s wife who was giving a rousing address when the woman picked up a piece of paper and said she wanted to end with a legend called, you guessed it, “The Daffodil Principal.” My mother’s mouth dropped to the ground. The presenter proceeded to read my mother’s story word for word. When it was over, my mother waited in line to speak with the presenter, not very patiently I might add, amid countless other women begging to get a copy of her work. When my mother finally explained that it was her story, this woman looked at her like she was from Mars and said, “Oh, no, sweetie, this is a legend.”

Not happy, my mother called Deseret Book, hoping for retribution. They told her it really wasn’t a misuse of copyright, and there was nothing my mother could do. At the same time Deseret Book was so impressed by the interest that they decided to turn the story into a children/gift book and it sold very well, making my mother a tidy profit on a book that had previously been dead.

So the question is why wasn’t this a flagrant misuse of copyright?

The purpose of copyright is to protect artistic expression and profits.Carolyn Campbell was spot on when she refused to allow two paragraphs of her presentation to be used in a book without paying for it, because the book would have been SOLD. Those profits belonged to her. (I adored her presentation and did blog about it. SORRY I didn’t ask permission and will take it down if you want.) Anyway, that same person could have paraphrased her presentation and still included it in his book without permission because copyright does not protect “Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices.” See It only protects the specific way she says it, her exact words.

So, for example, Julie Bellon who also gave an incredible presentation on editing, which I adored, told us about CLAW. If someone listening decided to write up the CLAW book on editing and not give her any credit, they could (although I think it would be a jerky thing to do), and it would in no way be a violation of copyright even if they made a million dollars on it as long as they didn’t use her specific language, because again, ideas, procedures, methods, etc. can’t be copyrighted.
Cliffnotes has made millions off of paraphrasing copyrighted material and it’s entirely legal.

So what about my mother’s case? Why wasn’t that a misuse of copyright? They were handing out copies of HER story.

Well, in section 107 of the copyright law it talks about FAIR USE. I’ll include what it says on the website (if anyone is still reading at this point.)

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:
1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

“The Daffodil Principle” was being distributed “for a nonprofit educational” purpose. If the presenter was charging five dollars a copy, my mother would have had her for infringement and could have sued for the twenty or so dollars she would have made. Most blogs would be considered the same “nonprofit educational” (especially since hardly anyone reads mine), but might also be protected under “news reporting” even with specific quotes.
Now this really is a great thing. It is what allowed Rachel to read snatches from the different books she brought, which was brilliant by the way, without violating copyright. She didn’t have to pay the authors for permission because it was nonprofit educational. She was entirely within her legal limit to do that.

I don’t know how someone got Julie’s slides- which is very odd. Now, if they were to sell them, they would violate copyright, but to use them in this way is decidedly gray, but I doubt would be infringement (albeit annoying.) To be honest, Fair Use is not cut and dry, but considered on a case by case basis. Still, very few educational nonprofit cases are every won, which is why your English Teacher can copy long excerpts from different stories and hand them around the room as examples of writing without ever paying for those stories. (Most public school teachers work for NOTHING.) One the other hand, once she publishes her textbook on the subject, she’ll pay out the bazooka for those same quotes.

Bottom line, when someone reports on a political speech or critiques a movie (both of which are copyrighted), and even publishes it for money, they are not violating copyright. If I invite the neighborhood to watch the latest Star Trek when it comes out on DVD at my house, I’m not violating copyright, even though I’m decreasing MGM and Blockbuster’s profits by doing it, UNLESS I ask them to pay for admission. That would be a flagrant abuse of copyright.
In conclusion, and I promise I’m almost done, copyright law isn’t that complicated but it doesn’t mean that once you write something or say something that no one can touch it unless you allow them to, even if the little symbol is there. It means that no one can sell it or pretend it is theirs (unless it’s only an idea or process.) Like with my mother this may be very annoying but in the end all it does is provide a great venue for free publicity which you may ultimately cash in on.

Maybe next conference we should have a class on copyright. I’d be willing to teach it and anyone who wants to blog about it, please do!


Monique said...

Christine those are great points on copyright. In college however it was drilled into us not to plagiarize. I think that using other's ideas, not putting them into your own words or giving the idea generator credit is considered plagiarism. If it's so wrong in school why isn't it wrong in the conference arena?

Shauna said...

Ooh love it. It's quite an in-depth, knowledgeable breakdown of the actual meaning of copyright abuse and what are considered grey areas. I wonder if schools have such stringent policies because you "profit" from good grades? Or just that they want you to learn the information not just learn to copy.