Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The public domain

I'm probably the last person to blog on this, but what the hell, it's an interesting story. This is the case of copyright infringement by Cooks Source Magazine against Monica Gaudio, which I read about on the Techno Llama blog yesterday and find interesting for a couple reasons.

First, it's provided me, and probably many others, with some clarification of Internet copyright. This case raised the important question of what the public domain actually is. Stuart Karle at the Columbia School of Journalism put it very simply in a Techland news article: just like any published book, original material is within copyright throughout the lifetime of the author plus 70 years - you don't give up copyright just because you put something up on the Internet. As we've seen in many different contexts, you can believe that the digital world is as open as you like, but copyright will usually be there somewhere (this is also, incidentally, the exact same copyright specification that libraries face in digitising their collections).

Second, it's another good example of idea transfer via the Internet. Taking the Techno Llama blog title - Why sue when you can use social media? - it would seem that on balance the resulting Internet storm will be more damaging (at least psychologically) than a quiet settlement. It's difficult to quantify, but Cooks Source Magazine would probably have preferred straightforward litigation at this point. In any case, it seems that Gaudio's outcome was unintentional - it sounded as though she was looking for advice, albeit publicly, and the injustice was confirmed by mass consensus. Just as many people spend a lot of effort in trying to make their online content 'viral', it can also happen by accident. The plus side here is that probably everyone has a much better understanding of Internet copyright law than ever before, which might reduce the chances of further events of this nature, and make future arguments over copyright more clear-cut.

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