Copyright Bullies

Monday, September 15, 2014

I just returned from a research trip and haven’t had time to write a new blog post, so I am reprinting one I wrote for the Indiana Writers’ Consortium blog on April 24, 1913.* I made a couple of minor edits to reflect the current status of my book, but otherwise the post is unchanged.

Copyright Bullies

These days we hear a lot about children and teens who bully their classmates. We also hear about the copyright police—the ones who remind bloggers and middle school music pirates to honor copyrights. But we rarely hear about the copyright bullies.

Copyright bullies are those publishers who try to scare us out of using their materials for any purpose whatsoever (with the sometimes exception of book reviews). The law reserves certain rights to the public, but these copyright bullies and their lawyers don’t want us to know that. 

Many books have this warning in the front: “No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without permission in writing from the publisher.” 

Wrong. There are a number of what the law calls “fair uses,” and brief quotations in printed reviews is only one of them. To make a general and far too simplistic statement, a fair use is one that takes a short excerpt and uses it in a way that transforms or complements the copyrighted material rather than replacing it. You can find a detailed discussion of fair use in my book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013), which is available from Amazon and other retailers. 

Then there are those works that have been around so long that copyright laws no longer protect them. This is called being in the public domain. People can use public domain materials any way they want, although they should attribute the source. 

I found the most flagrant attempt at copyright bullying in a book that compiles several of Lewis Carroll’s works—all of which entered the public domain decades ago. In that book the warning states: “No part of this publication may be reproduced in any way or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or stored in an information retrieval system of any kind, without the prior permission in writing from [Publisher], except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.” 

Huh? All the material is in the public domain, which is where the publisher got it from in the first place. The reader is free to copy at will without worrying about copyright infringement. 

We should all be careful not to violate copyrights, and some warning is necessary.  

But don’t be intimidated by copyright bullies. 



Linda Glaz said...

Love this, Kathryn, thanks so much. Great post!

Linda Glaz said...

And you may copy that comment without fear of retribution. LOL

Kathryn Page Camp said...

Thanks, Linda.

Jeanie Jacobson said...

Thanks for the eye-opener. I definitely need to check out your book, Writers in Wonderland.

Post a Comment