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Copyfraud Is Stealing the Public Domain 263

Posted by kdawson
from the uncivil-actions dept.
malkavian writes "This community has complained long and loudly about the very one-sided approach to copyright, and the not-so-slow erosion of the public domain. On top of the corporate lobbying to remove increasingly larger parts of the public domain, there is now an growing pattern whereby works are directly taken from the public domain and effectively stolen by a single company leveraging protections provided under copyright law. The Register's article is based on a paper by Jason Mazzone at the Brooklyn Law School, which starkly details the problems that are now becoming evident as entities grab control over public domain works. The paper proposes some possible solutions, such as amending the Copyright Act. From the abstract: 'Copyright law itself creates strong incentives for copyfraud. The Copyright Act provides for no civil penalty for falsely claiming ownership of public domain materials. There is also no remedy under the Act for individuals who wrongly refrain from legal copying or who make payment for permission to copy something they are in fact entitled to use for free. While falsely claiming copyright is technically a criminal offense under the Act, prosecutions are extremely rare. These circumstances have produced fraud on an untold scale, with millions of works in the public domain deemed copyrighted, and countless dollars paid out every year in licensing fees to make copies that could be made for free.'"
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Copyfraud Is Stealing the Public Domain

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  • Combating Cyberfraud (Score:2, Interesting)

    by arizwebfoot (1228544) *

    What we need is for someone to create a program, open source of course, where people can create text files of public domain works, submit said works and then those who have the program, can download those works they want and forever have access to them.

    There are programs available on the religous side [crosswire.org] for those works which are in the public domain (i.e. early church fathers, bibles, dictionaries, lexicons, etc), but I don't see any for the non-secular side.

    Perhaps if a few started a website and elicited vo

    • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:01PM (#28483913) Homepage
      Congratulations; you've discovered Project Gutenberg.
      • by Sum0 (1245284) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:04PM (#28483953) Journal
        Even better, Project Gutenberg Australia http://gutenberg.net.au/ [gutenberg.net.au] , which has much looser copyrights. I think public domain there starts in 1954.
        • by FeatherBoa (469218) on Friday June 26, 2009 @02:40PM (#28486317)

          Australia, which has much looser copyrights

          Careful. Australia follows Life+50 which is different from the US rules, but is not strictly looser. There are items that are PD in the US that are NOT PD in Australia and vice versa. The real difference is the Life+ time limit being so long in the US that the only things currently in PD are PD due to the old published prior to 1923 rules. But there are pre 1923 items whose authors don't meet the Life+50 test. Lots of them.

        • Ah, but Australia has seen a cease in the extension of its public domain; the clock is stopped at 1955 [wikipedia.org] for the next decade and change. As a result, we have Project Gutenberg Canada [gutenberg.ca], and its associated Distributed Proofreaders Canada [pgdpcanada.net]. Anyone who died in 1938 or earlier is eligible for inclusion there, and they'll be celebrating Public Domain Day every January 1 for the foreseeable future--hopefully, it's much harder now to pass a damned extension than it was a decade ago.

      • by mcvos (645701) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:13PM (#28484081)

        So people should do that with these "stolen" works: scan them in and submit them to Project Gutenberg. I'd be very interested in what the copyright claimer would do about that.

        (But my fear is that it's going to be determined by who can afford the most lawyers.)

        • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:41PM (#28484529)
          Project Gutenberg has an *excellent* clearance team to determine the copyright constraints of work. I know because I use to be a PG volunteer until I ran out of free time =(
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by wordsnyc (956034)

            They should rent them out to Google Books. They claim it's damn near impossible to find the copyright holders on millions of books (thus allowing them to claim them as "orphans"). It's an odd admission for a search company, but there it is.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Congratulations; you've discovered Project Gutenberg.

        Technically, you are only bound by Gutenberg's license terms if you leave the license in place. According to their page on licensing, specifically on Public Domain works, it says,--

        A Project Gutenberg ebook is made out of two parts: the public domain book and the non public domain Project Gutenberg trademark and license. If you strip the Project Gutenberg license and all references to Project Gutenberg from the ebook, you are left with a public domain ebook. You can do anything you want with that.

        So, where exactly does Project Gutenberg come into this "stealing the public domain" thing? No modification to the work has been made save to prefix it with a trademark and license--and without internal changes to the document no further copyright is granted. For the full legalese please see section 1.E of the license. [gutenberg.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by malkavian (9512)

      The big problem is that's exactly the repository the CopyFraud groups use to obtain the Public Domain material to slap their Copyright on, and "own" the material through Google etc. until someone puts up a legal suit to remove it as copyright material. There's no incentive NOT to falsely claim copyright of public domain material. That's the issue from the articles.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:57PM (#28485761) Homepage Journal

      works are directly taken from the public domain and effectively stolen by a single company

      It would have been nice if the summary had named this "single company". Apparenly, if I read the article correctly, they are called "Kessinger Publishing".

      Bringing public attention to corporate misdeeds is a very effective way to encourage better behavior on their part. Here's some possibly useful information:

      Kessinger Publishing
      PO Box 1404, Whitefish, MT 59937, United States
      (605)892-0560, (605)892-0561 fax, http://www.kessinger.net/ [kessinger.net]

      Kessinger Publishing appears to be a privately held corporation and I didn't find any names of owners or management. I'm betting someone with Lexis access could find that info.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:05PM (#28483971)

    I requested a paper via interlibrary loan, and attached was the standard boilerplate that it is copyrighted work, a licensing fee had been paid for the copy to be used only for the purposes of scholarly research, additional copies were $1.25 each to be paid to XXXXXX, ... blah, blah blah.

    The paper was written in 1869.

    Idiots. To use copyright maximalist terminology: they're *stealing* from the public domain.

    • by CarpetShark (865376) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:26PM (#28484275)

      they're *stealing* from the public domain.

      This is not new; it's why I started using the GPL about 15 years ago rather than releasing stuff as public domain, because I read of this very problem somewhere.

      • And perhaps it's a great reason for people to use Creative Commons for their writings/photos/etc. nowadays (if they so desire to release their work in that manner).
      • Yes, stealing is a good term for activities of that sort.

        No need to resort to broken arguments, and stoop to the level of the copyright maximalists. Very righteous logic is on our side. Unlike mere copyright infringement, claiming copyright over a work in the public domain is indeed a form of theft. That's not something that the legions of filesharers do. These thieves claim to be the originators of a work (plagiarism), or owners or rights holders (squatting), or, the main point of course, try to insinuate that these works must be paid for (fraud) and shake suckers down for money.

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:31PM (#28484381) Journal

      The paper was written in 1869.

      And when was the editing and typesetting for the edition you used done? Do you know that there area lot of public domain music works but very few recorded performances that are in the public domain?

      Publishers like Kessinger Publishing [kessinger.net] specialized in maintaing and providing a means for acquiring out of print public works. They served a very valuable purpose at one point but the internet, Project Gutenberg, even Google should make them obsolete soon. We're in a transition period.

      The issue with the Google books is that they don't have the original 1800s printing of the first volume. That's why they had to rely on Kessinger. Kessinger publishes both volumes of Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan and the second original printing is free on Google books. Google faces the problem of not being able to re-edit or do its own typesetting of the first edition so instead of risking litigation they just put up what they can. They cannot fight these fights for every book. I think the copyfraud label applied to them is misplaced and will soon be a non-issue as others step forward with their personal collections to offer up to the internet.

      • by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:24PM (#28485247)

        Editing and typesetting should not make a new copyright. It adds no useful art, unless it make massive changes to the original. If it is just to make the original clear why the heck should they get any copyright on it?

        • by sakusha (441986)

          Correct. There is no way to put a Public Domain book back into copyright, except through translation (that would be a new, original derivative work). Just re-typesetting the text does not create a new copyright. Mazzone's paper describes in detail "copyright creep" where authors slap a new foreword onto a PD work and then claim a fraudulent copyright on the whole book. Yes, the foreword would be copyrighted but the other contents could not be copyrighted.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by pbhj (607776)

          Editing and typesetting should not make a new copyright. It adds no useful art, unless it make massive changes to the original. If it is just to make the original clear why the heck should they get any copyright on it?

          The problem with the law is specifying differences in a meaningful way. There's making the original clear: different font / repagination. And there's making the original clear: scanning velum for obliterated texts under later texts and transliterating/translating into modern scripts/language.

          These are vastly different undertakings. The former can be 1 minute choosing a new font. The later can be many years poring over high resolution scans using novel scanning techniques and textual analysis to interpret th

      • by Eil (82413)

        Do you know that there area lot of public domain music works but very few recorded performances that are in the public domain?

        I admit to not being a copyright expert here, but if you can copyright specific performances or editions of a work already in the public domain doesn't that make the work not really public domain in the practical sense?

        What we need in copyright law is a bill, amendment, or whatever detailing exactly what public domain means and gives just as much protection to public domain works as

    • by jc42 (318812) on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:10PM (#28485027) Homepage Journal

      I requested a paper via interlibrary loan, and attached was the standard boilerplate that it is copyrighted work, a licensing fee had been paid for the copy to be used only for the purposes of scholarly research, additional copies were $1.25 each to be paid to XXXXXX, ... blah, blah blah. The paper was written in 1869.

      This is a good example of one type of sneaky wording that is probably technically true, but means something very different from what most people think it means. The claimed copyright is probably valid, but it applies to that printed edition of the work. The words themselves aren't copyrightable, but you can still get a copyright on a specific printed form of the work. But note that the publisher didn't say this; they used the common technique of just saying "copyright" or used the standard circled 'c' copyright symbol, and didn't quite say what was copyrighted. (If you misunderstood what they were claiming copyright to, well, it's not their problem that you are so ignorant of copyright law. ;-)

      They probably can legally charge a price for a printed copy of their specific printed edition of the work. But if you were to type the words into your computer and put them online, they'd probably be careful when making a copyright claim, because claiming that they own the words would be fraud. This is how sites like Project Gutenberg work; they ask people to type up the text of works that are out of copyright, and they put the words online formatted differently from any printed version. That way, they aren't violating the copyright on any printed edition.

      I've seen a bit of this from working with a group that's putting a lot of music online in a compact computerized data format. There are several formats competing now, with ABC in the lead, and formats like LilyPond, RoseGarden, and Music[X]ML with active development of interesting software. Most of the online music is old, 1800s or earlier, in great part due to copyright considerations. Still, I've read of a number of cases where some publisher sends a nasty C&D letter to someone with such music on their site. The site's owner talks a bit on some forums, then sends a reply of the form "That music was published by So-and-So in London in 1723. My file is not a scan of your publication or any other publication. How are you claiming ownership of the music?" The publisher understands that they've been caught in an attempt at consumer fraud, and so far they have always slunk away and aren't heard from again. Until we read in some forum that another user of the software has received a nasty C&D message.

      Actually, sometimes it works differently. My web site has copies of the transcription of the three O'Neill's volumes (that every traditional Irish musician will know). The transcribing was done by a small team of musicians. I did a search for current printed editions, found that Mel Bay makes some very good ones (that open flat on a music stand). So I put links to melbay.com in my pages describing the collection, recommending these editions to anyone who would like a good printed copy. A few months later, I got a nice message from a Mel Bay employee, thanking me for referring people to them. There was no hint that they were unhappy with our online "edition". Someone there understood that my site was good advertising for them. Their editions of such old music also contain copyright notices at the beginning that says fairly clearly that it's their printed edition that is covered. The actual pages of music often don't even contain copyright notices, apparently because they often use copies of the original printing plates, which are out of copyright now (and hidden away in a library somewhere).

      So some publishers are trying to do such things right. We should encourage them.

      (I also like to use such things in discussions of how threatened publishers are by online editions. Printed editions of music that's available online are often selling pretty well. T

      • by Homburg (213427)

        The words themselves aren't copyrightable, but you can still get a copyright on a specific printed form of the work.

        I may be wrong here, but my understanding is that you need to do significant editorial work, such as abridgement or re-organization, to a work in order to get a new copyright on it. I don't think that if I just, say, downloaded a book from Project Gutenburg and typeset it to produce a printed version, I would gain any copyright in this printed version.

        • by jc42 (318812)

          I may be wrong here, but my understanding is that you need to do significant editorial work, such as abridgement or re-organization, to a work in order to get a new copyright on it.

          You're probably right. But that doesn't prevent publishers from putting a copyright notice in everything they publish, even if they added nothing but the copyright page to the document. If you have the funds to fight their lawyers, you well win, though it could be yet another case where only the lawyers really win.

          In any case, i

    • I acquired some photographs for a college project about a decade ago from a local historical society. They were photos of an old, now-removed residential neighborhood, taken in 1917. (All photographs taken and published in 1917 in the United States are and were in the public domain.)

      Before I was allowed to have a copy of these photos, I had to had to sign a contract that limited my ability to reuse the works. This effectively replaced copyright as the entity restricting my right to use the works.

      Alas, I

  • Good Morning to you;
    Good Morning to you;
    Good Morning, dear children;
    Good Morning to all!

    Bring it on, Warner...

    • by jc42 (318812)

      Good Morning to you; ...

      Heh. An argument I've read is that "Happy Birthday" starts with two pickup notes (D in the usual key of G), rather than just one, and this is sufficient to make it a different musical "work".

      This is sorta bogus, of course, and as far as I've been able to tell, it hasn't been tested in any courts. It's doubtful that any but musical lawyers would hear the difference. But if someone would like to spend a few million dollars being the test case, we should all encourage them to go righ

      • An argument I've read is that "Happy Birthday" starts with two pickup notes (D in the usual key of G), rather than just one, and this is sufficient to make it a different musical "work".

        It didn't work for Vanilla Ice, who had to share his "Ice Ice Baby" royalties with Freddie Mercury and David Bowie.

        OTOH, [Warner Music Group] have said that they have no intention of suing anyone for singing it in the usual non-commercial way.

        Even on YouTube?

      • Actually the real problem with the copyright on Happy Birthday is that it is based on a (relatively) late publication date of 1935. It first appeared in print in 1912. The 1935 copyright is probably only valid for that particular format, but Warner claims it for all formats of Happy Birthday (which would only be true if 1935 was the original publication date of the song).
  • permission (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:08PM (#28484005)
    Has the New York University Law Review granted him permission to distribute that paper? : p
  • Keen (Score:5, Insightful)

    by firewrought (36952) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:11PM (#28484033)
    "Copyfraud" - I like it. Coining a new term is an offensive maneuver, and offense seems like a better political strategy than the defensive whining we always do on slashdot. Now we just need to start floating ridiculous proposals to counterbalance the copyright lobby's ridiculousness and re-center the discussion on what a reasonable public policy should be.
  • It's *Fraud* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by John Hasler (414242) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:21PM (#28484213) Homepage

    > The Copyright Act provides for no civil penalty for falsely claiming ownership of public
    > domain materials. There is also no remedy under the Act for individuals who wrongly
    > refrain from legal copying or who make payment for permission to copy something they are
    > in fact entitled to use for free.

    This is because it isn't under the Act at all, nor should it be. It is ordinary fraud and should be prosecuted as such. The fact that the Act provides no penalties for it does not mean that nothing can be done.

    • Wait, you mean all those times I sold the Brooklyn bridge i was committing *FRAUD*??? Uh-oh!

      Oh well, I guess I can't sell that anymore, but I can hook you up with a guy who is interested in parting with the golden gate bridge.
    • Re:It's *Fraud* (Score:4, Informative)

      by russotto (537200) on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:41PM (#28485519) Journal

      This is because it isn't under the Act at all, nor should it be. It is ordinary fraud and should be prosecuted as such. The fact that the Act provides no penalties for it does not mean that nothing can be done.

      The copyright act actually DOES provide penalties for falsely attaching a copyright notice. But they are _criminal_ penalties -- 17 USC 506 (c) provides for a $2500 fine for anyone who does so. But there's no private right of action and good luck actually getting a prosecutor involved.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:22PM (#28484217)

    Capitalism doesn't recognize anything that cannot be monetized. And capitalism is also averse to anything being public -- the argument being the tragedy of the commons, which is this: For any shared responsibility, the more people sharing that responsibility, the less responsible each person will be, until everyone is effectively irresponsible, thus the public utility becomes useless/abused/less valuable.

    Capitalism is a fine concept for tangible items. But it's not very good at all for intangibles. Nonetheless, as we moved from a production-based economy to a service-based one, these intangibles had to be protected by businesses somehow, so as to ensure their continued relevance and profitability. The hasty modifications to trade secret, copyright, and patent law, was a poor attempt to bridge this gap, and there was little or no public input. Simply put, society didn't have the time or attention devoted to addressing the changing landscape, because most of us at that time either weren't educated about it, or struggling to put food on the table and change careers to adapt to the changing economy. We were so focused on the immediate result that we all but ignored future consequences.

    Using bait terms won't solve the problem. "Copyfraud" sounds great, but it's meaningless. It's the same with a lot of other terms -- "Net neutrality" comes to mind -- to the uninformed, it sounds good but isn't very descriptive. "Copy fraud" could mean "copying as a means of fraud" -- which is exactly what many businesses are calling the free sharing of digitized information.

    We have three options here, which are not mutually exclusive:

    1. Vote with your dollars. Don't buy products that have an effective cost of zero to own. Put another way - stop buying anything in a purely digital format. Instead, only buy periphery products -- such as warranties, service level agreements, support, or mp3 players, televisions, etc. This will eventually starve out business models that depend on selling products that should be free, and allow business models that support this paradigm shift to free information to flourish.

    2. Stay in the system. Buy out public product and design licensing that ensures they remain public, and then put those rights in a shell corporate. GNU comes to mind, with their GPL licensing, and the many derivatives thereof. By gaming the system in this fashion, GNU is ensuring that copyright enforcement actions will always be in their favor. Over a long enough time frame, they will win the "war", because companies that cannot provide alternatives to public-domain product will go out of business. Ironically, it's one of the best arguments for innovation out there. The only catch is--Placing something in the public domain or having it remain there still has a monentary cost, however low. So far, the community hasn't addressed this systemically.

    3. Ignore it completely. Go about your business. Encourage your friends to do the same. Ignore law enforcement demands, company demands, government demands. They're idiots, you're enlightened, Watch it become a "War on Drugs" and our country become irrelevant in the world economics as it tears itself apart trying to enforce a hopelessly doomed social constraint mechanism. If we cannot succeed domestically, we'll wait until we, as a culture, simply die out from international pressure. *shrug* It's not the most patriotic solution, but it's practical.

    • The problem isn't capitalism, as you say; it's copyright. Copyright is a violation of physical property laws, and has no place in a free market. Some claim that copyright is a natural extension of physical property, but it's not as it lacks scarcity, the fundamental thing that capitalism addresses.
    • by xlotlu (1395639) on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:27PM (#28485285)

      Wonderful comment. You'll get your +5 mod anyway, so I'd rather comment on your last "option":

      3. Ignore it completely. Go about your business. Encourage your friends to do the same. Ignore law enforcement demands, company demands, government demands. They're idiots, you're enlightened, Watch it become a "War on Drugs" and our country become irrelevant in the world economics as it tears itself apart trying to enforce a hopelessly doomed social constraint mechanism. If we cannot succeed domestically, we'll wait until we, as a culture, simply die out from international pressure. *shrug* It's not the most patriotic solution, but it's practical.

      Unfortunately that's not the way it goes. There's no you, and us, and patriotism anymore. It's them benefiting from endless copyright vs. us humankind that would benefit from knowledge in the public domain. If the status-quo changes they'll lose their 3rd yacht, and their army of lawyers will need professional reorientation. They have everything to lose and they won't give up easily.

      The RIAA and MPAA might be U.S.-based, but they're everywhere; they just go by different names. Haven't you noticed Swedish online service providers being held liable for $3.5 million for copyright violations that never happened? Or the 3-strikes law that was passed by the French legislative body, and they were barely saved by their constitutional court? Or the traffic filtering efforts in the U.K.?

      Expect the Author's Guild to follow suit once they figure out how to do it internationally. We have yet to find out what ACTA brings upon us.

      So it's not just about your culture, but our culture. If you're waiting for international pressure, sorry to disappoint you: they got to us too. And I somehow doubt the blatant copyright violators like China and revolution-torn Iran will fill that role.

    • by sorak (246725)

      Actually, I suspect that "bait terms" like copyfraud, are more likely to be in the media, and more likely to get people's attention and cooperation, than some suggestion that we all ditch iTunes, etc...
      .
      But I would also agree with another poster, that digital content does cost money to produce. I had no problem buying a digital copy of Freakonomics a few years back, because Levitt and Dubner should be compensated for their work. If you want to talk about the children of an author who has been dead for twent

      • by tepples (727027)

        If you want to talk about the children of an author who has been dead for twenty years, that is a different story, however.

        Then in what year do you think songs written by, say, Michael Jackson should enter the public domain?

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          I am not the GP, but 2009 seems like the correct year.

          He surely can't make any more money from them. This means that he also cannot be enticed to make more art, as such there is no reason to have them not be in the public domain.

  • Money (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:23PM (#28484239)

    Our copyright laws are focused on making money for companies. They should be focused on making works as available as possible while still encouraging the creation of new works.

    It's one of the clearest examples of how our government has been sold and does not exist primarily for the people.

  • by jc42 (318812) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:26PM (#28484277) Homepage Journal

    The Copyright Act provides for no civil penalty for falsely claiming ownership of public domain materials. There is also no remedy under the Act for individuals who wrongly refrain from legal copying or who make payment for permission to copy something they are in fact entitled to use for free.

    This statement is an example of the same sort of "logic" used by the public-domain squatters: It's technically true, but very misleading. It doesn't matter if the Copyright Act doesn't provide penalties; there are plenty of other laws that apply. One thing these companies are guilty of is commonly called "consumer fraud", and large penalties can apply in such cases.

    The real problem is the lack of prosecution, mostly because it typically takes a class-action lawsuit to get enough money behind it to challenge a company's legal budget. Local DAs tend to take a "not my job" attitude to such things, so it requires organized community action to fight such fraud.

    Maybe what we should be doing is documenting cases of such fraud, and publicizing them when the topic comes up in forums like this one.

    Anyone want to post a list of some of their favorite fraudulent claims of ownership of public-domain material?

  • Civil remedies (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tnk1 (899206) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:30PM (#28484343)

    We'd probably get farther if we could sue fraudulent companies, rather than prosecute them as criminal cases. In that way we could have someone like EFF or some watchdog take these guys to court and sue them for damages as well as return of fraudulently obtained earnings due to willful abuse of copyright. That would hit them where their soft spots are and lower the burden of proof from reasonable doubt to preponderance of evidence, a much harder thing for their lawyers to weasel out of.

    While it would be nice to throw people in jail for this, and that should remain on the books, the fact is that having the state prosecute for this runs into the same problems every time: the state is less interested in prosecuting people who have good lawyers and lots of special interest cash for something that Middle America doesn't really understand all that well and is divided on the implications of. There's no glory for the prosecutors, and it's expensive for the state when they could be busting somebody that will give them some juicy publicity.

  • The story is about fraudulent copyright claims on public domain material; if it's public domain then fair use doesn't apply.

  • to ignore copyright law

    no, more than that

    it is your moral duty to do your utmost to circumvent, outmaneuver, and otherwise destroy copyright law and the tools that enforce it

    i am not in any way joking. copyright law has nothing to do with artists rights and rewarding artists for their work. it is all about extracting cash from you for your own culture for the sake of some bottom line on some accounting sheet

    copyright must be destroyed, we must outright waged war on it on all fronts

  • from children's stories and then they make their own copyrighted version of it.

    Snow White
    Alice in Wonderland
    Peter Pan
    Sleeping Beauty
    Beauty and the Beast
    The Little Mermaid
    The Lion King
    The Jungle Book

    Etc.

    The copyright from such fair tales and children's stories have expired and they got released to the public domain. Then Disney takes them and rewrites them slightly to have a Disney twist. Then Disney copyrights them.

    • Then Disney takes them and rewrites them slightly to have a Disney twist. Then Disney copyrights them.

      Not so. What Disney copyrights is the animated features they create retelling those stories, and they also trademark the appearance of the characters in the features. Anybody can make their own version as long as they don't use the same script, the same images or borrow any incidents Disney created for their version. If your claim were correct, Disney couldn't have made (as an example) Alice In Wonderl

      • Trademarkfraud too (Score:4, Interesting)

        by tepples (727027) <tepples@gmaiBLUEl.com minus berry> on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:57PM (#28485763) Homepage Journal

        What Disney copyrights is the animated features they create retelling those stories

        That doesn't stop Disney from bringing flimsy accusations of copying against other publishers of animated films. Look at GoodTimes Entertainment [wikipedia.org].

        and they also trademark the appearance of the characters in the features.

        Why should Disney have the right to trademark such appearances when they are based closely on the original illustrations that entered the public domain along with the text?

        • We all know that Disney likes to play 800 pound gorilla, and I'm not defending them. If you go to the children's section of a good DVD store, you'll find animated versions of many of the classic stories that Disney's also used. You'll also see that the creators were careful to avoid making their characters look too much like the Disney ones, and there's not much anybody can do about it because it's clear, in those cases, that there's no infringement. The point is, you have to be original, and not look li
    • by Ant P. (974313)

      I was disappointed that I had to get halfway down the comments before anyone pointed out Disney. They're the reason copyright is as evil as it is today.

    • I remember at Fry's they used to sell versions of Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Little Mermaid, etc. (under those names) in animated format. They suck. (My kids were watching one at church one day and they are really bad.) They are still for sale. Nobody is stopping them.

      What Disney tends to crack down on is:

      • People using their Trademarks, Characters, etc., which THEY CREATED a likeness of.
      • People using THEIR SCRIPT and THEIR SONGS in a musical to which they are selling admission for profit.
      • etc.

      N

    • The Lion King might be a bad example. It wasn't by the Grimms, H.C. Andersen, Rudyard Kipling, Carlo Collodi, etc., like the other ones you mentioned. It was allegedly original, a loose retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet, but also allegedly a knockoff of Kimba the White Lion.

      J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan was still copyrighted in much of the world when Disney's movie came out, and even after the expiration of the UK copyright in 1987 (and its subsequent restoration once the EU formed and re-expiration), the UK go

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PitaBred (632671)
      Which is fine. But this story is about companies claiming copyright over the original stories, the public domain ones.
  • I am planning on releasing a lot of digital images I made to the public domain. For free. And if someone takes those and enhances them in any way or uses them to make their own art (like sampling in the music industry) they are free to make their own choice about which copyright to use.

    If this enhancement process only means a bot will download them and rename them to sell them on a different website then I will have to live with that.

    If people WANT to pay money for books they could download for free on proj

    • by Locklin (1074657)

      You may want to check your local laws. Some countries do not allow you to release your copyright, at most you can write a covenant not to sue.

      This is exactly what the creative commons license was made for. People can download and use your images for free, but you can (at minimum) require that person trying to sell your images to attribute you. That way anyone who wants to, can then simply Google your name and find the images for free.

    • by idontgno (624372)

      I am planning on releasing a lot of digital images I made to the public domain. For free. And if someone takes those and enhances them in any way or uses them to make their own art (like sampling in the music industry) they are free to make their own choice about which copyright to use.

      If this enhancement process only means a bot will download them and rename them to sell them on a different website then I will have to live with that.

      Will you live with having someone copy your work, claim exclusive prop

      • by Britz (170620)

        Will you live with having someone copy your work, claim exclusive proprietary ownership of that work (i.e., copyright), and pursue everyone else who uses your work?

        By analogy (not /.-approved car analogy, but still):

        You can throw cat food out for all the feral kitties living in your neighborhood, but what can you do if one cat drives all the others away? What if that cat attacks you to take away the cat food you have?

        If they download from my server, then the image is public domain. It is even stated in the

        • by idontgno (624372)

          If they download from my server, then the image is public domain. It is even stated in the image tag. If they donwload from their server and they slapped a copyright on it I can't do anything about it. That is public domain.

          That is, indeed, public domain: without effective registration and protection, an attactive nuisance. Tossing pretty toys and dollar bills onto the freeway of commerce, inviting the unsuspecting to get squashed.

          If they try to pusue someone who downloaded from me (using my copyright) t

  • by spaceyhackerlady (462530) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:50PM (#28484717)

    I have a number of reprints of old books, like The Western Avernus, memoirs of a construction worker on the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was published in 1887, and the copyright has long since expired. The reprint, from 2005, claims copyright, even though the original author (long since dead) had nothing to do with it, nor, as far as I can tell, did his estate or descendants.

    What, exactly, are Cosimo Classics copyrighting?

    ...laura

    • by jc42 (318812) on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:32PM (#28485383) Homepage Journal

      I have a number of reprints of old books, ... The reprint, from 2005, claims copyright, even though the original author (long since dead) had nothing to do with it, nor, as far as I can tell, did his estate or descendants.

      What, exactly, are Cosimo Classics copyrighting?

      Their claiming copyright on their specific printed edition of the work. Even if the text is public domain, that printed version can still be covered by copyright. So if you run it through a copier and sell the copy, you'll be violating their copyright. But if you type the text into your computer and put it online (perhaps at Gutenberg.org), you won't be making a copy of their printed edition, only of the words that it contains, and you'll be legal. It'll help if you make the line breaks different, so it's obviously not a copy. Or even better, use HTML so it'll look nice on everyone's screen.

    • by sgtrock (191182)

      The printed book itself seems most likely. IANAL, though, so I'm not sure how much change is required to get it treated as a transformative work. For all I know, the mere act of printing it is enough.

      BTW, have you checked to see if the book is already carried at Project Gutenberg or another library of public domain works?

  • by b4dc0d3r (1268512) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:51PM (#28484727)

    I can bottle rain water and sell it to stupid people. I can take communication bandwidth which costs me nothing extra and charge people every time they send a single text message over it. I can make something people can make themselves and charge 10 times the value of the components. I can send spam to millions of people and let them send me money. If people don't take the time to evaluate their purchases, capitalism dies. We should be encouraging people not to buy junk that falls apart, so the companies go out of business. If they pay for Linux but can get it for free, should Red Hat go out of business?

    I know, Red Hat is only putting a copyright on their additions, but how do we make this distinction clear from whatever else this whining is about?

    Someone who takes an out of copyright text and prints it has provided a service and deserves to be paid for it. If they make any additions to the text, such as editorializing or checking or whatever, the updates are now copyright of the people who printed it. I can take an original Beethoven score and reproduce it, but if I take an editorialized edition produced 10 years ago, I can't distribute that for free because of the value added by the publisher. In most cases, origianl scores are written in old-style notation and must be updated to make sense to today's musicians, and that conversion is a new, protected work.

    So the real complaint is the narrow bunch of stuff which is being reproduced, verbatim, with a copyright attached. And the real concern isn't even that businesses are making money - it's simply that copyright is being asserted. Yes?

    My understanding is that even if you take something in the public domain, your arrangement of it can be copyrighted.

    For example, a phone book. The data itself cannot be copyrighted. The presentation can. If you stick it in a photocopier and sell the copies, that's a problem. They give the phone book away, so giving away a copy is technically illegal but probably won't be enforced. If you re-type everything and get the company logos from the companies and effectively reproduce it so it looks nearly enough the same, you could get sued for copying the presentation - not the contents.

    In this case of Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan, where the book is essentially scans of another book, there are parts of the book which are copyrighted. The cover is, any forward or editorial material is, notes included. Anything that was added is copyrighted, and copyright law has only one way of distinguishing that. You put the copyright notice on it like you do anything else. Would you rather make an author call out which parts of the book are covered and are not? On every page?

    Put another way, a derivative work of something in copyright is not allowed. A derivative work of something out of copyright is essentially a new work. You can still go back to the source and copy it for free - that hasn't been changed.

    So the complaint is really just about the fact that people *might not* understand how copyright law works, and *might* pay money to a company that makes it easily accessible instead of rummaging around trying to find the original. I see no problem here. People need to know how laws work in order to live other parts of their lives, so let's just consider this a place where people need to understand exactly what copyright means.

    • by tepples (727027)

      In most cases, origianl scores are written in old-style notation and must be updated to make sense to today's musicians, and that conversion is a new, protected work.

      If the mapping from old notation to new notation is obvious enough to be done mechanically, then the new edition is as unoriginal as putting text into a different font.

      Anything that was added is copyrighted, and copyright law has only one way of distinguishing that. You put the copyright notice on it like you do anything else. Would you rather make an author call out which parts of the book are covered and are not? On every page?

      With the typography tools available in 2009, there are attractive ways to set off quotes from uncopyrighted works.

      A derivative work of something out of copyright is essentially a new work.

      If the changes are sufficiently original. Copyfraud is taking a public-domain work, making changes that do not meet the bar for originality, and passing off the result as original.

  • by wtansill (576643) on Friday June 26, 2009 @12:59PM (#28484863)
    The RIAA, MPAA, etc. all claim insanely high valuations for copyrighted content; witness the latest verdic against now-convicted "pirate" Jamie Thomas-Rasset who is now on the hook for 1.92 million. Fine. Let them copyright to their heart's content.

    But let's also update the tax code to capture the full monetary value of these copyrighted works. Oh, and since "intellectual property" does not deteriorate over time as would a piece of real property, the tax code should explicitly disallow depreciation.

    I suggest we start collecting back taxes on all of those old "Steamboat Willie" cartoons that Disney started putting out in the early part of the 20th century, along with old music catalogs and so forth. Let's see how truly valuable these IP assets are, and how many are suddenly not worth keeping copyrighted.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Locklin (1074657)

      You don't have to outlaw depreciation. Simply require the copyright owner to register the work and it's value. The trick is, require the owner to sell the work to any party offering the registered value. That way, undervaluing his work to save on taxes risks loosing ownership of the work.

  • by fm6 (162816) on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:00PM (#28484889) Homepage Journal

    Remember how the movie It's a Wonderful Life used to be played in the afternoon on every single station with air time to fill leading up to Christmas? This happened because the movie bombed in the box office, and the studio didn't bother to renew the copyright.

    Then Aaron Spelling bought up various IP rights relating to the movie, such as ownership of a song used in one scene. He assumed control over distribution of the movie, based on a complicated legal theory that a lot of IP lawyers consider totally bogus. But this theory has never been challenged in court, and never will be — nobody's going to start an expensive legal battle over their right to show a movie without paying a fee.

    Another one that really bothers me: the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom, about NYC elementary school kids learning ballroom dancing. Lots of music, of course, and that ended up costing them lots of money in "clearance fees" for the right to use it. How much? By the time it went to DVD, $140,000, almost half the cost of making the movie.

    People who make this kind of movie don't have a lot of cash to throw around, so they did what they could to minimize it. At first, they only paid for the rights for a couple of weeks, so they could show the film on the festival circuit, and get some investors to cover the rest. They also dubbed over any music that they thought wasn't important to the movie, such as a scene where some kids are playing a video game.

    One particular outrageous case: there's a scene where a woman is walking down the street, and her cell phone rings for 6 seconds before she answers it. The ring tone is the theme from Rocky, and the director decided she had to have that little bit of music to make the scene work. For that she needed clearance from Sprint (ring tone rights) and EMI (publishing rights). Sprint saw it as product placement and let her have clearance for free. But EMI wanted $10K! She finally bargained them down to $2K. Even so, she winces every time she see that scene, and has to tell herself that that six seconds was worth that much.

    She told an interviewer that if had known what a big hassle music clearance was going to be, she probably wouldn't have made the movie.

    Now, all you amateur lawyers are screaming FAIR USE! FAIR USE! . And for once you're right. Every lawyer I've heard talk about the subject agrees that music that happens to be overheard while making a documentary is fair use; only music performed for the film requires clearance. This is not just pro-electronic-free types. This includes pro-industry lawyers with a very narrow definition of fair use!

    But despite the unanimity of legal opinion, this hasn't really been tested in court. Insurance companies that bond productions prefer to err on the side of caution, and the entertainment conglomerates that control facilities and distribution networks have an interest in keeping things narrow. Everybody agrees that if there's ever a test case, the documentary-use-is-fair-use doctrine will almost certainly prevail.

    But will there ever be a test case? Again, money is an issue. When you're struggling to raise a hundred K or two to get your indie documentary made, an expensive court battle is just not an option.

    Legal joke: "Sir, I've examined the evidence, and you have an extremely good case. The only question I have for you is this: How much justice can you afford?"

  • by noidentity (188756) on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:00PM (#28484891)

    If I own some raw material and craft an object out of it, I own that object. I own it not because I created the object, but because I owned the raw material it was made from. If someone else takes some of my raw material without my permission and crafts an object, I still own the resulting object, for the same reason: the act of creation using my material doesn't change ownership.

    If we accept the premise that intellectual works are property like any other, then we must recognize that virtually all works are made primarily of intellectual property owned by the public ("public domain"), and are thus still owned by the public. To claim ownership, as opposed to mere authorship, is outright fraud.

    • by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:17PM (#28485135)
      The founding fathers knew this, as many of them were inventors and artists, so when the crafted the Constitution the put in this clause:

      "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;"

      Under the "Powers of Congress" section. The key here is "limited Times"

      Lawrence Lessig took a case all the way to the Supreme Court, Eldred v. Ashcroft, but the court decided that 70 + lifetime with infinite extensions was "Limited", even though the founding fathers thought 14 years was limited.

      Things move faster now than in colonial times. Copyright and Patents shouldn't be longer, they should be shorter than then.
  • This would appear to be the primary motivation not only for the GPL, but for other open source licenses as well (ex BSD).

    Were source code put directly into the public domain, not only companies use the source code without contributing their changes back to the community (which the BSD license does allow), they would be allowed to appropriate the source code and stamp their own copyright on it (copyfraud it, which even BSD-style licenses explicitly forbid). Not only could they sue anybody else that used th

  • Simple solution... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Stormwatch (703920)
    Simple solution: abolish copyright. [dklevine.com]
  • by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:07PM (#28484997)
    The tune for the Happy Birthday song was composed in 1893, and the lyrics have been around since 1912. But since the copyright was registered in 1935, we've all been paying royalties, on it, and will forever...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_Birthday_to_You [wikipedia.org]

    This is copyright fraud, but it's so small that noone will take the time and money to the courts to fix it.
  • therefore the GPL (Score:5, Informative)

    by fermion (181285) on Friday June 26, 2009 @01:07PM (#28484999) Homepage Journal
    I hear tell that this is why the GPL exists [wikipedia.org]. To stop exactly these kind of shenanigans. A person writes a derivative work, say a text editor, and wants to make it available to everyone, so does not copyright it. Another person makes a derivative work from the non copyrighted work, and then copyrights the result. Now, not even the original author has acess tot he work.

    Some of this has been solved through copyright changes. Now everything is automatically copyrighted and if one can prove providence, then one can stop the theft of intellectual property. If one has the money. This still does not necessarily eliminate the threat from derivative works, which explains the GPL viral nature. Not only is this work GPL and in the public domain, but anything derived from it. This is only way to insure that the authors original intent, to have product in the public domain, is heeded. One might complain that the at some point the authors wishes should not be in play, and the work should enter the more general lawless public domain. Such issues though are not unique to the GPL. Such issues are governed by more general rules such as the leagth of copyright(essentially forever) and the applicability of the EULA. If the length of copyright were at most the lifetime of the author, and EULA were not allowed to excessively restrict free use by the user, for instant to disallow first sale doctrine and fair use, then these would not be an issue for the GPL either.

    But they are issues, and the GPL does appear to provide a good protection against theft from the public domain, which is why those that make a living stealing [corante.com] from [theregister.co.uk] the public good are so against it. Of course they are. These companies seldom give anything back , at least not without a huge price tag. The one time that Bill Gates accidently gave something away, . Of course now an occasional tuppence are given to select beneficiaries to cloud the guilt, but there you are. he GPL is evil because it prevents thefts and insure the public domain. Which is, apparently, a very bad thing to do.

    • by rhizome (115711)

      But they are issues, and the GPL does appear to provide a good protection against theft from the public domain

      Oh, but RMS is such a weirdo and I don't agree with Perens sometimes and ESR hasn't done anything substantial in years and Redhat charges for support and well, it's just so hard to like the GPL when there are all of these seriously mitigating circumstances. It's so hard to choose between my antipathy toward celebrity and copyright.

  • I don't get why this person is all about hating the CC-PD license. Yes, it is technically unnecessary, but it provides a convenient framework for tagging PD works without having to add something "special". I don't think CC is trying to steal the public domain. They are just giving content providers one stop shopping for all their licensing needs.

Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth. -- Nero Wolfe

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