As we’ve learned lately some people wrongly assume that work which is available to the public, particularly on the internet, is “in the public domain” and therefore available to be reproduced any way anyone likes. This is not true: there are very particular laws regarding copyright, which we are all meant to follow; and it’s not always little organisations or new writers who make mistakes.
When Tom Barrett discovered that edsoft Interactive, an Australian educational software publisher, was using an information sheet called Interesting Ways To Use The iPad In The Classroom as a sales tool he was confused: he’d collaborated with several teachers on an information sheet with exactly the same title. It transpired that edsoft Interactive had not only slapped its own logo onto the information sheet, it had also removed the names of all of the people involved in its creation.
It seems as though this episode has been resolved reasonably well, with Andrew Bennetto, the Managing Director of edsoft Interactive apologising to Mr Barrett and explaining where things had gone so wrong: but it makes me wonder how frequently such copyright infringements occur. I don’t expect everyone to have a full understanding of the copyright laws: but I would expect writers and publishers, who have a professional interest in such matters,would do their best to ensure that they didn’t infringe on the works of others. Sadly, this is not always the case.
YouWriteOn is an internet site for writers but despite that, the people behind YouWriteOn have shown a scant regard for writers’ rights by copying whole articles from the national presses onto its message-board and providing little in the way of attribution. Here’s an obituary for Dame Muriel Spark which apparently came “from the BBC News Site”; here’s what looks like a press release about Sean Connery which is entirely unattributed; here’s an article about a new writer’s book deal, with the attribution “source: Associated Press”; here’s a whole forum page of barely-attributed stories which appear to have been copied wholesale from the internet; and there are plenty more on that discussion forum if you’re interested in finding any more. There do seem to be fewer examples of this sort of copyright infringement on the YouWriteOn website in recent months so I assume that YouWriteOn might have had its knuckles rapped (although if that is the case I wonder why YouWriteOn’s management hasn’t taken pains to edit its earlier transgressing posts). I could perhaps understand such wanton disregard for the laws of copyright from people who weren’t involved in creative endeavours; but when a writers’ site infringes the copyright of other writers something is extraordinarily wrong. Although bearing in mind YouWriteOn’s vanity publishing scheme which I blogged about a couple of years ago, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.
Such transgressions do seem to be more common among amateur and new writers: but it’s not only writers who hold the copyright to their works: creative types of all kinds are meant to be protected by the laws of copyright, including photographers. And if we disregard these laws we could get into serious trouble–but not always in the ways you’d imagine.
Last December, a blogger (I can’t find his name anywhere on his website: anyone?) spotted that a picture of a beach in Berneray, in the Outer Hebrides, was being used to advertise a beach on Kai Bae in Thailand. His mention of Berneray set off a Google alert which went to blogger and photographer John Kirriemuir, of Berneray; and he thought that the photograph looked strangely familiar. He did a bit of searching and realised that it was bound to look familiar to him, as he had taken the photograph some years before and put it onto the internet.
And then, the story got even more convoluted. In the comments to Mr Kirriemuir’s post, a photographer called John Burch mentioned how his similar experience had got him into a lot of trouble. He had found eight of his photos on the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s website, where they were apparently used without his knowledge or permission; to add to his ire the Tourism Authority of Thailand had put its own copyright notice on the photographs. After sending them several emails which remained unanswered, Mr Burch sent the Tourism Authority an invoice for its unauthorised use of his work and received this somewhat startling response:
Dear Mr. Robert Burch,
I am Mr. Payoonsak Rattanamas, representative of former Tourism Authority of Thailand Director, Southern region 4. I will explain you about the pictures that we brought from your website to show 2 photos.
From our understood the festival for vegetarian in Phuket organize by TAT and Phuket Province then all picture from this event we can use for non-profit organization like us and if you want to take photos from this event to make your business you should ask permission from us and very funny when you use advantage from the event that we created and paid all expenses and you ask too much money from 2 photos like over 10,000 pounds.(you should advise your stupid wife, your stupid friends or some people you close they will told you why you do stupid work like this)
Please confirm your your desire direct to me who handle this case we will consideration your asking and if you confirmed the same from beginning we may have to black list your name for immigration division and Thai Embassy to protect people like you to come to Thailand to take advantage from Thailand Government again.
Mr Burch paid a Thai solicitor $500 for advice, and was told he had little-to-no chance of getting anything for his troubles. He was never paid for the Tourism Authority’s unauthorised use of his work, and he later discovered that his name had been added to a list of journalists which the Tourism Authority of Thailand refuses to deal with.
So, how can we as writers ensure that we don’t intrude on anyone else’s copyrights?
- We have to write our own stuff and not rely on other writers’ efforts to bolster our own.
- We have to understand what copyright means, and when it is established in a piece of work.
- It helps if we understand the difference between copyright and copywrite.
- And if we understand the difference between copyright and publishing rights.
- We must all follow the advice of The Society Of Authors and get permission for every single quote we use.
- Remember that owning a physical thing doesn’t mean we own the copyright to it.
- And when we sell our work we must ensure that we know exactly which rights we’re disposing of, and which we retain: otherwise we might find ourselves inadvertently infringing the copyright on that piece if we publish it elsewhere.
If you’ve blogged in support of copyright, do please leave a link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll edit your links into this article over the next few days. Thanks for your help with this.
- Sally Zigmond has written a beautiful blog post called Dont Just COPY; Get It RIGHT in which she links to a very useful speech about copyright in the digital age.
- Nicola Morgan has written a fabulous guide to copyright with only the barest hint of crabbitude.
- Sarah Callejo has pointed out how confusing copyright laws can be, and how much conflicting information there is on the internet.
- Catdownunder has written an elegantly understated post about her own experience with copyright-wrangling, which reveals how upsetting things can be when they go wrong.
- Last year Sarah Hilary talked passionately about originality and inspiration, and revealed how some of my favourite writers have inspired her.
- Dan Holloway makes a song and dance about copyright.
- At the State Of Independents (a blog from and independent bookseller and publisher in Edinburgh) there’s a great and concise post which outlines what copyright means, and how writers should observe the laws concerned.
- Photographer Melabee M Miller shows us her lovely T-shirt and gives me far too much credit.
- Chloe Yelena Miller considers copyright.
- Sally Quillford has posted a very useful article she wrote for Writers’ Forum magazine in which she discusses copyright infringement, plagiarism, and how to avoid them both; and she links to an excellent article which appeared in the Guardian, in which Blake Morrison discusses the cost of obtaining permission to quote from songs. In case you’re wondering, quoting a line or two from one of The Beatles songs can work out VERY expensive.
- The Copyright Alliance has published a very sobering piece by Brenna Lyons in which she writes about the cost of copyright theft.
- Photographer Diane Macdonald has written a brilliant and subtle blog post about copyright infringement. I’d like to see anyone argue against it.
- Over at The Profitable Publisher, Marion Gropen has written a fabulous post called Common Myths About Copyright.
- Sarah Duncan has pointed out that when people infringe on copyright, writers don’t get paid. It’s that simple.
- A strong post about copyright from E G Hamlin.
- Nick Cross blogs about copyright here.
- Alex Gazzola, who blogs at Mistakes Writers Make (And How To Put Them Right) has added this extensive post about copyright to his website.
- Mark Monlux has drawn copyright cartoons!
- Nadia Damon points out how distressing copyright infringement can be, and urges us all to be constructive rather than angry. She makes an excellent point.
- Top Notch Productionz discusses the complications of copyright in music.
- Christina Tugeau discusses how her illustrations were considered to be “in the public domain” because they’d been featured in her local paper. Um: no!
- Writer Stacia Kane has contributed to our copyright day too, with this brilliantly insightful comment about how copyright theft stops writers getting new contracts. She’s right on the button.
- A useful article about Canadian copyright laws here from Ryan Fitzgerald.
- Portrait photographer Cindy has posted a very clear article about copyright in images (and while you’re looking at her website check out her beautiful portraits of newborn babies: they are just delicious!).
- Ed Hamlin points out that it is not ok to steal. A simple message, nicely delivered.
- Photographer Jeremy Nicholl has a good few posts about copyright infringement on his blog, and his photographs are compelling.