The Perplexing Law and Ethics of Copyright Violations On The Web

For once I’m not going to try to summarize a useful article, but will just suggest that you read it. From the future (the article is mysteriously dated May 1, 2012), journalist Eriq Gardner tells of his experience with Righthaven, the organization that was created explicitly to sue bloggers and others for copyright violations on the web. He tells of how he came to believe that the defenders of copyright law, not those who would destroy it, had fairness, logic and ethics on their side.

The article is well-timed, given my current travails with an unapologetic plagiarist, and my own position on copyright, which is consistent with the author’s. It also features a guest appearance by attorney Marc Randazza, the First Amendment specialist who came to my aid when  I was threatened with a lawsuit over an opinion someone didn’t like.

The article, titled The Righthaven Experiment: A Journalist Wonders If a Copyright Troll Was Right to Sue Him, is well worth your time.

2 thoughts on “The Perplexing Law and Ethics of Copyright Violations On The Web

  1. I disagree with the writer’s conclusion. I’ve been following this story for a while; it seems clear that Righthaven was created to serve as a shakedown machine. Coupla pre-templated letters customized for direct nastiness, a threat, and presto – several grand rolls in for a couple of hours of work. Not a bad business model, as long as you can live with yourself.

    To the extent that major media outlets are watching their work distributed for free… well, let’s just say I’m crying crocodile tears. Only a handful of media outlets – most notably, the Wall Street Journal – were smart enough at the outset to determine that “our content has value, and we will NOT distribute it for free on the unproven premise that people will click on ads.” Most of the news media bet wrong on how people would use the Web (many still don’t understand the Web, if their sites are any indication). Sadly, I see every sign that much of the news media will continue to make this mistake even as its possible salvation – the tablet – becomes more popular.

    None of this should be construed as a defense of those who appropriate copyrighted material from others. It is not (and I’d add that the cases that brought Righthaven down were NOT about going after plagiarists, but rather going after people using large chunks of copyrighted material, usually with attribution). There’s a difference there, and has been pointed out here on Ethics Alarms numerous times it’s perfectly possible for more than one party in a given situation to behave unethically.

    This is still something of a legal frontier, but fair use is becoming increasingly well-defined as the digital age rolls forward. While one can (and should) hold those who violate copyrights in disdain, one shouldn’t hold the news industry and outfits like Righthaven blameless. The media outlets made it possible; Righthaven was apparently simply skimming off the top.

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