Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Copyright Craziness

The past 24 hours have been rather intense ones for Transformers fans. One of the producers (not the same one as made the comments about voice actors mentioned earlier) was misquoted in a fan magazine recently, got justifiably upset about it, and proceded to withdraw his presence from fan message boards if the misquotes were not removed. One of those sites, in an effort to inform fans exactly what all the brouhahah was about, quoted both the article from the magazine, and the producer's actual words from another message board, explicitly stating that the magazine misconstrued the producer's words.

By the end of the day, the producer threatened legal action against that message board for using his words without permission. Despite the fact that the site did so in an effort to "tell the facts," it was considered to be keeping the negative information out there (the original magazine had since retracted the statement), and would only serve to increase the misconception in the future.

I work with copyright quite a bit in my job, and while I don't pretend to be an authority (there's LOTS of fine print on what's appropriate and what's not), I do know that, if you write something, be it a book, a poem, a personal e-mail, or a message board entry, you automatically own the rights to how that work is used. You don't have to register your work with some Copyright office for this protection, although creators are encouraged to do so if they know that they are likely to want to exercise their rights to their material, since it bolsters a case on who wrote what when. There are, certainly, "fair use" guidelines. These generally include the right to parody a work (such as some song parodies I've done, and probably the Hitchhiker's Guide entries would fall in this category), or to use quotations for the purposes of commentary. However, these "fair use" guidelines are not absolute, and are subject to a set of general rules which must be taken together, with no single rule creating a "clear cut" guideline in all cases.

I'm not actually sure who was "in the right" in the message board situation. While the producer definitely owns the rights to how his words are used, the message board was engaging in semi-journalistic commentary. Like I said, the "fair use" guidelines are not "clear cut," but merely offer guidelines should the case be brought to court.

I'm happy to say that this situation has since been resolved, and there's not likely to be any further development on it. I have consciously chosen not to link to the board in this case, because I feel it best to let that issue in particular die out. I do, however, think it's appropriate to comment on some of the issues this raises, hence this blog entry.

Ironically, I had just placed a "Creative Commons" link at the bottom of my sidebar yesterday afternoon. At the time, I had not intended to draw attention to it, since I expect that few people are likely to care enough about my postings to want to use them, nor am I likely to care about my rights being abused on what are generally trivial matters. However, since it relates to the above situation, let me explain exactly what "Creative Commons" allows:
  • I am perfectly happy to let you use anything from my blog entries in any way you see fit, with the exception that I do not permit use of my work for commericial purposes.
  • I do request that, if my work is used, I be given credit for writing it. Since this is an "anonymous" blog (although most people who come here do already know who I am), work from this blog should be attributed to "B-W of Transforming Seminarian" or something similar. A link to the blog would also be nice, but is not techically required.
  • I further request that any use made of my work be made available to anyone else who wishes to use the resulting work (usually called a "derivative work" in copyright lingo) free of charge.
  • Needless to say, these guidelines do not apply to anything I have not, myself, created. (For example, the extended quote regarding DHMO is not mine to grant permission for. In fact, although it was quoted for the purposes of commentary, my own comments are so slight that it may not fall under "fair use" guidelines. If I ever get an indication from a rightsholder that this is inappropriate, I will certainly have such a quote removed immediately.)
A quick related point: anyone can cite a link to another site without violating copyright. They just may not be permitted in all cases to quote from the site itself.

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