Copyright: Ignorance is no excuse…

“Hey”, I see you think. “That Copyright Notice Looks Familiar…”

This morning, I caught a blogger who rather brazenly had ‘borrowed’ some of my articles. It isn’t the first time this has happened, of course, but in this particular instance, I was particularly insulted; the blogger in question was running a thriving photography business, and had happily stuck his own copyright notice on my article.

In this particular case, it was even more impressive than usual — this particular blogger has a whole section on their website on copyright, which includes choice phrases like “All information and material posted on this Website are subject to copyrights” and “use (…) is expressly prohibited, unless prior written permission has been granted.”

In quite a few of the recent cases of infringement I’ve dealt with, the ‘defence’ has been “I didn’t know it was not allowed”, or “This is for my own personal use only”. I’ve got to say, I do feel a little bit bad about going in all guns-a-blazing, when I’m met with ‘I didn’t know’. On the other hand, that’s not really how things work. If you are driving a car, you are expected to keep on top of changes in traffic law. If you’re a doctor, you’re expected to keep an eye out for which drugs you can prescribe for something. If you’re a sailor, you have to learn the laws of the water. If you’re in advertising, there are certain things you can’t say or do to promote your product. If you’re a teacher… If you’re a football player… You see where I’m going with this.

As a blogger, you are a publisher.

What many people don’t seem to understand fully, is that blogging is publishing. Sure, it might be that hardly anybody reads your blog. It’s possible that you have your site mostly for your own use only. And it is very, very easy to remove or edit a piece of writing from a blog if anybody takes offence. Nonetheless; the activity of making something publicly available on a web site is still publishing; as the site’s publisher, you’re responsible for all and any content that goes live on the site.

If you’re a publisher, you are liable for any laws you break in the course of your publishing activities. Including copyright infringement.

There are some edge cases here, of course. For example; a forum owner technically ‘publishes’ all content on a forum, but isn’t necessarily legally responsible for everything posted by their members. However; if a member is consistently posting copies of articles to the forum, they might still be on rocky ground. There is at least one large forum run by police-officers, for example, that flaunts copyright law as if there is no tomorrow… Which doesn’t mean that that particular forum couldn’t get a particularly nasty surprise at some point in the future.

Ignorance is no excuse

The point is; if you participate in any activity, you’re expected to know the laws and rules relevant to the activity you’re participating in. If you don’t, then — I hate to say this — tough luck. Ignorance is no excuse.

It is a shame, really; to drive a car, you have to take a licence; if you buy a house, you have to take some legal advice. On the internet, however, nobody tells you what is appropriate behaviour — and what isn’t. It’s extremely easy to pirate music (in fact, the embarrassing truth is that it only very recently became as easy to buy as to pirate music online — and services like Rhapsody, Spotify, Pandora and iTunes have a lot to do with that), it’s still often easier to obtain movies without paying for them than to get them legally, and if you run a blog, it’s very simple to get a lot of high quality content by simply taking it from other websites — like this one.

I’ve had enough of it, though. I’m not spending most of my life creating content that I think people will like, just to have someone else nick it and publish it on their own websites. If that’s you, then the next time I find you, expect an invoice in the post.

Because ignorance is no excuse.

Further Reading

This is part of a 4-story series:

  1. What is copyright, and how do infringements harm you?
  2. Protecting your copyright in a Digital World
  3. Just because it’s in my RSS feed, doesn’t mean you get to steal it
  4. Ignorance is no excuse

In addition, you might enjoy Police Fail: Copyright, what is that? and Even Schools Don’t Care About Copyright

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