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February 2010The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

Copying and Attributing Content

There are a lot of people who seem to think that it is okay to copy content from other web sites provided that they include a note at the end that says where they got it from. The reason why so many people think this is obvious since there is much misinformation around that suggests that this illegal activity is in fact perfectly legal.

It isn't.

It makes no difference whatever to the legality of your copying someone else's content that you attribute it to them as the original author at the end. Copying their article without their permission is stealing copyrighted material. Letting people know where you got it from is effectively acknowledging that the work is stolen and may make it easier for the owner to track down the stolen content.

When this stolen content is discovered by the owner they will first request that you delete it from your site. Now obviously with you reading this article you are going to go and delete all the content you have inadvertantly stolen before their owner has a chance to discover that you have stolen it. If you don't delete it before the owner finds it and requests to have it removed then you must certainly remove it the instant that they ask you to.

By the time they ask you to remove it you may already be too late to avoid it costing you a lot of money if the owner can demonstrate in court that your stolen copy of their content has adversely affected their income. Some web sites pay their authors based on page views and if you are displaying a copy of their content then it is easy to determine how many page views your copy got so that the owner can demand that you compensate them for that number of lost pageviews from the site where they get paid for people viewing the content.

Even where it isn't going to go to court and the owner isn't going to demand compensation it can still cost you if you don't delete their content from your site as soon as you are asked. Their next step in protecting their copyright will be to advise your hosting provider that you are displaying stolen content on your site. The best outcome you can hope for from that is that the hosting provider will delete the stolen content. Usually they just play things safe in protecting their own interests by deleting your entire hosting account. If you read the terms of service for your hosting you will generally find a clause that prohibits your displaying stolen content and allowing the provider to terminate your hosting if you breach that condition.

So how is it that so many sites manage to get away with displaying content that was written by someone else? They get permission first.

If you ask for permission to display material written by someone else on your site and they agree then you are not stealing the content because you have their permission to use it.

What about fair use copying of material without permission? Well first of all what have you got against asking permission anyway. If you ask permission then you don't have to rely on fair use. In any case fair use rules vary somewhat between countries and what you might consider to be fair use may not come under the fair use laws in the country where the author is located. For example fair use in Australia is limited to specific profgessions where there is a need to copy other's content. Examples of these professions are journalists and teachers. Even so those in those professions are only allowed to copy a maximum of ten percent of a given work (or one chapter of a work broken into chapters and containing more than ten chapters). Those not in those professions could be in trouble if they copy more than a sentence or two to use as a quote. The USA doesn't have specific rules for fair use but leaves it to the person who copied the work to prove that their use was reasonable - so copying anything if you can't prove in court that it is reasonable could be a copyright breach.

Book publishers ask permission before even quoting a sentence or two from reviews of their books. The paper trail they generate in doing this is several times longer than the material they get permission to copy. That's how serious they are to make sure that there isn't even a remote possibility of their being accused of breaching someone's copyright.

The community college I teach at regularly asks for copies of all material used that wasn't written by the tutor so that they can check for themselves that it falls under the fair use provisions so as to protect their interests and avoid their being dragged into a court case if a tutor were to copy more than the law allows.

What I can't understand is what people have against asking for permission. If you ask for permission to copy something that someone else wrote no matter how big or small that material is and if they actually grant you that permission then you are covered against any chance of an accusation of having stolen the content - provided of course that the person you got the permission from is the actual author or has the author's permission to distribute the content in that way.

Attributing the article to the person who actually wrote is only fair in letting people know who the actual author of the work is. Stating that you have (re)printed it with their permission (assuming that you actually got their permission) helps to let those reading it know that you care about the ownership of the work. Not all of the work that you see that advises who the author is but which doesn't mention about having got permission will be stolen content but a fraction of it certainly will be - and all because of misinformation that people spread about it being okay to steal content provided that you say where you stole it from.
 

On Site

Receiving the HTML pocketbook for review this month has given me an idea for a new series of articles. The draft of HTML 5 proposes a number of new tags and attributes. Much of what is proposed can actually be done using existing tags and so I thought that creating articles on the HTML 4 standard equivalents to the proposals should prove interesting. At the very least it should help to show which of these proposed tags are actually needed and which are just duplicating the functions of existing tags.
 

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