Copyright Myth

I just read the following disclaimer on a website that had screenplays for a fair number of movies:

All material published here was copied off the net, and therefore the curators are not liable to any copyright infringements or anything like that. Virtually all can be just links to somewhere off the internet.

It doesn’t matter where the material is obtained from. If you publish copyrighted material, it’s infringement unless you have permission from the copyright owner or it’s published under the fair use provisions of copyright law.

The idea that “I found it on the internet so it must be OK to use since someone else already put it there” is just plain wrong. It’s a myth that publishing something on the internet changes the copyright rules. All the internet does is make it easier to break the rules.

One of the exclusive rights of authors — or whoever else owns the copyright — is to distribute copies to the public… by whatever means. Publishing copyrighted material on line is an infringement of this exclusive right.

More copyright related information is available at Copy Right, Copy Sense.

copyright, give me a break!, tanstaafl!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • dcr Nov 7, 2007

    Did they have the screenplays copied onto their own website, or did they just link to sites that did? The first sentence in their disclaimer basically says they copied the material from other sites, but the second sentence makes it sound like they are just linking to sites with the screenplays.

    If it's the former, you're right. Too many people think that anything they find on the Internet is in the public domain. Do they think that anything they find in the public library is in the public domain too? One must wonder why schools don't teach basic stuff like this. It's not enough to tell students not to cheat; you have to teach them why it's wrong to copy other people's work too.

    If it's the latter, I would hope one would not be liable for linking to another website. The person who infringes on copyright by publishing a work on their website should be the one liable, not those who link to it. If we can be guilty of copyright infringement simply by linking to a web page, that opens up a nasty can of worms and would basically kill the Internet. If we had to make sure that every site we linked to had full rights to their content, there would be very little linking going on. You'd probably have to have signed statements by the author to guarantee that their work was original and/or they had the rights to publish it and that they would hold you harmless to all claims to the contrary. Lawyers would have a field day, and everyone would be afraid to even mention other websites.

  • Jonathan Bailey Nov 8, 2007

    Several points.

    First, you're right, it is an infirngement and, by acknowledging that "All material published here was copied off the net" they are actually admitting to a form of copyright infringement. Stop and think about it. What if one of the screenplays was posted with permission on the original site and they copied and pasted it on to theirs. That is an unauthorized copy in and of itself making them the original infringer in that case.

    Of course, as you pointed out, it is no better to be the second or third, but it shoots the argument of "he did it first" right out of the sky.

    Second, I raise the same question as der about the actual nature of the site but, as the TV Links takedown noticed, there are ways you can be held liable for inducing infringement, especially if you benefit from it. There is such a thing as secondary infringement and, in some cases, linking has been found to be such a liability.

    Of course, those cases are rare, but it is not as clean cut as some would like to think.

    A great post with some very powerful questions.

  • Mike Goad Nov 9, 2007

    Dan – I checked some of the links and the screenplays were on their site.

    Jonathan – I like your point on them being the "original infringer" if a site they took from had permission. I also knew that there had been some issues with links and infringement in the past, but, like you said, that's pretty rare.

    Thanks for the comments and discussion!

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