Thoughts on copyright and those that make money ignoring it.

I’ve been meaning to write this bit for a while. My first thoughts were sparked by the folks at Live Journal, and their apparent disregard for copyright holder’s rights. The ideas of this post were tickled again reading about the Google Print project, and their attitude in regards to author’s rights. I’m finally getting around to this post because I have a few things I want to write about, and I don’t want them showing up on the LJ site, and this post will explain why the tampagypsy_feed is about to break.

I know a lot of people who use LJ, and while the LJ tools and features make blogging easy I don’t like having my content on a site I don’t control. You could call it Geek Bias, but I just prefer to keep under my control that which I create. So, I set up WordPress on my site and I was quite happy with that.

My friend Ratha, who uses LJ a lot, set up a RSS feed on LJ that points to my WordPress install. I was OK with that. It made it easier for my LJ junkie friends to more easily see when I post new content.

Then one day I noticed that people had been replying to my posts, but that the replies were only on the LJ site. It appears that the LJ site doesn’t handle blog feeds the way that other sites, like Friendster and Orkut do, in that it fully copies my content into their system. With my content copied into their site, and a comment box at the bottom, replies wind up becoming part of LJ instead of my site. This bothered me. I wrote the folks at LJ and asked that they disable the comments on that feed. They replied that they can not disable comments, and they referred me to a FAQ entry on their site.

Upon reading the FAQ entry I became fully pissed. The FAQ entry in question is here, but I hope that it someday changes to something that honors copyright holders. The FAQ entry in question is titled “My content is being syndicated onto LiveJournal and I don’t want it there. What can I do?” The entry tells the reader that there is nothing LJ will do if you don’t want your content on their site. If you want it removed the author must take the action of blocking the LJ spider:

You must first take server-side action to block the content from being syndicated to a LiveJournal account. For instance, if the syndicated account on LiveJournal is using your site’s RSS or Atom feed, you should disable that feed in order to prevent it from being syndicated onto LiveJournal.

If you would like to keep the feed, but prohibit LiveJournal from using it, you can block LiveJournal’s IP address ( from accessing your server. This will prevent your content from being syndicated onto LiveJournal.

Once the spider is blocked the content will fade off in about two weeks, and that there is nothing LJ is willing to to do accellerate that process. To be fair, it says ‘there is no way to accelerate this process’ but as a web developer and db admin, I know there ARE ways to remove content and that they are making a conscious choice to present it as if it just can’t be done.

Syndicated accounts retain entries for two weeks in order to allow LiveJournal users to view them. Content may continue to be visible on the syndicated account after you have disabled access to the feed; the entries will be automatically deleted after two weeks. There is no way to accelerate this process.

The reason this bothers me is that an author who does not want their content on the LJ site has far more rights than LJ would lead them to believe. Under the Bern Convention their works are copyrighted, and have legal protections. As the copyright holder, they have the absolute right to restrict where their creations are reproduced. Just because it is on a RSS feed does not put it in the public domain. Under the DMCA it is the legal responsibility of LJ to remove content at the request of the copyright holder. This isn’t the picture they paint though. They have taken my content, incorporated it into their site, and now they refer me to a FAQ entry that says they won’t remove my content?

There is a part of me that wants to send them a certified letter demanding content removal with the intent of taking them to small claims court for the days my content remains. I’m too busy these days for such a small payoff, so I’ll settle for this being the last posting that shows up in the tampagypsy_feed. According to them it will remain for at least two weeks. 🙂

What does this have to do with Google? Nothing directly, except that the recent flack with the Google Print project rang the same bells with me. Google started to scan in library books, with the intention of allowing users to search through them. Google would be displaying ads in order to make money off the venture.

They have been getting a lot of flack for this, and they seemed surprised. Perhaps it is because they are stuck in the paradigm in which their business ‘grew up’. Search engines are a fact of life for those of us who are only able to publish on-line. So, we tolorate that search companies make money selling ads on the same pages that our pages are listed in a search. We could use robots.txt to block the search engines, but then our reach would be greatly reduced.

The world of paper publishing has its own well established methods of extending the reach for authors. When a book is published it is marketed in print ads, book shop displays, newspaper reviews; all of these are methods that are out of the reach of most web based authors. Could the publishing industry benefit from Google searching? Sure. Do they need it? Nope. Are they willing to give up their rights for something they don’t need? Not likely.

So, why the outrage? Because Google started scanning books without written permission from the copyright holders. When confronted with this, they offered publishers the option of opting out; much like web pages and the robots.txt system. While this is what they had become used to in the world of web sites, it flies in the face of the world of print media. I have in my hand a copy of “Light”, by John Harrison. On the copyright information page is a clear statement: “No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval sysem, without written permission of the publishers, except where permitted by law.” While this statement has evolved over the years, pretty much all my books have something similar. Now, with a statement like that from the copyright holder Google still wants publishers to opt-out again? I understand the outrage. While there are provisions of law that allow limited quoting, otherwise known as ‘fair use’, I think it is safe to say that if Google uses snippets of book text to sell advertising for a profit that it does not fall within fair use.

The mindset of disregarding copyright in electronic mediums has existed for a long time. Brad Templeton, the founder of Clarinet (the first subscription usenet news service), created a FAQ on copyright myths. Each of the questions represents a way in which people misunderstood how copyright works. People come up with crazy ideas and justifications, but companies like Six Apart (The owners of Live Journal) and Google have paid lawyers whose job is to keep everything llegal. It seems odd to me that two companies whose core business revolves around displaying content created by others that they would be that ignorant of copyright holder’s rights.

You will notice that I have Google AdSense ads on this page. This enables me to make money off my posts. As the copyright holder this is my right, and is something that I feel is fair. What I personally feel is unfair is someone copying my work, in whole or in snippets, to be displayed on a page that has ads from which I will never see a penny. Perhaps it is time to challenge the paradigm that search engines get to display other people’s content for their exclusive profit? Just because it is the way things have been done doesn’t mean it is the way things should continue.


ps. Please DO NOT reply to this posting on the LJ feed account (tampagypsy_feed). Follow the links back to my webite and reply there if you feel the need. There is no way to easily integrate comments from the LJ site back into my own weblog, so the effort of posting to the LJ site is wasted as I will never read it…

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