Friday, January 20, 2012

Copyright law and me ... and you

As many of you know, I am in the process of publishing my book Governing Ourselves. Respecting the copyrights of others has been one of the most challenging tasks I have faced as part of that process, because I have used several brief quotations from copyrighted sources.

Being a first time author, I am learning what is, and is not reasonable. One author and one publisher have been very gracious, and state that my use falls within "fair use" under the Copyright Act, thus no royalty is due them. On the other hand, I requested permission to use a brief quotation from a 1972 interview with Richard Nixon that was published in a newspaper that has been defunct since the 1980s. Another newspaper owns the copyright and wants a $390 royalty for the first 25,000 copies printed. If I knew that I would sell 25,000 copies of the book, that would seem reasonable, but if I only sell a few hundred...! (I have since removed that quotation and replaced it with a story that was posted in this blog about two years ago -- which turned out to be an improvement in content).

Existing copyright law is intended to protect artists and writers from those who would simply copy the work and sell it for themselves. It relies on what I call "passive regulation" (a concept on which I will elaborate in my book) -- you find that someone is stealing your work, you can sue for damages. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) relies on "active regulation," meaning that a corporation can ask the federal government to shut down sites that use copyrighted material. In other words, certain major content providers (such as New York publishers and Hollywood film companies) want to shut down all competition by taking control of the Internet. To give you an idea just how far-reaching this bill is, it seems that the Congressman who introduced the bill was himself a violator by illegally using a copyright image as background on his site (since removed).

In about a month, I will be adding a commercial element to The Ohio Republic (to sell my book, of course). In so doing, I will have to take much greater care about my use of copyrighted material on my site, because it then will be considered "for profit." I understand that, and am preparing for it. However, under SOPA, The Ohio Republic would be strictly limited to the content I generate myself. I could not even link to a copyrighted source, lest that source put me at risk by infringing on someone else's copyright.

My primary purpose in writing Governing Ourselves is to share with the public insights that I have gained over the last twenty years. I admit that I would also like the book to be profitable enough to substantially increase my retirement fund; and appreciate now, more than ever, the importance of protecting the rights of the author. However, I feel that existing law does that well enough. I have no desire to go against the blogger who quotes a couple of paragraphs of my book, as long as that blogger gives me credit for it (and a link to a site that sells it would be nice, too :) ).

Government has an obligation to protect the people from force and fraud. Reasonable copyright protection is a necessary function of our legal system. However, it should not be used to encourage the greedy to trample on the rights of everyone else.

In yesterday's post, I suggested an easy way to contact your Congressman and Senators in opposition to SOPA. If you have not registered your opposition to SOPA yet, please do so now.

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