Monday, 16 June 2008


An interesting debate on copyright and content theft on the Internet over at Charles Arthur’s blog had the effect of making me think about this stuff more than I would normally and I happened to want to put up a post last week that quoted some lyrics from a Stranglers song. With that in mind, I trotted off to try and find the publisher to ask permission. After a vast amount of time-wasting searching, which had the result of delaying my post by 48 hours, I finally found a company which appears to own the publishing rights to the Stranglers’ back catalogue, Complete Music. They have a single email address, The mail bounced.

At that point I finally gave up and posted anyway, reckoning: 1) It’s part of a larger work and a partial quotation of the original work. 2) It is used for illustrative purposes, attributed and linked back to the artist 3) Sod them. If they ask me to take it down, I will.

In this fast world we live in, where we all slap up posts on blogs that are frequently of great currency and rarely of any commercial (or even intellectual!) value, tracing down rights ownership does all seem a little redundant. And, as I found out, not easy. For instance - how do I obtain permission to quote from The Guardian? How long does it take? Surely in 99.9% of cases, by the time the permission request has been processed and granted, the posting finger has, as it were, moved on. AND the vast majority of posts have a lifetime of 24 hours before the next post comes along - so by the time you’ve granted your permission, I’ve moved on to something totally different and so have my (two) readers.

As long as we’re not distributing whole works of value and charging or distributing saleable property for free - and we’re crediting and also linking back to the rights owner, surely we’re doing enough? It seems to be impractical to impose the standard of rights/permissions regime that you would impose on, say, The Guardian, on individuals having ‘a conversation’.

And so it is: most people are perfectly happy that you quote them and link back to them. The debate, however, was triggered by Charles taking exception to the fact that a number of bloggers had ripped an entire article along with its illustrating photograph from The Guardian. If you go doing that, a link back to the source of the content would, indeed, seem redundant. But the line between acceptable use of other people’s content and unacceptable use would appear to be particularly ill-defined – and that doesn’t even touch the issue of how you could possibly enforce your rights when you’re dealing with the multi-country, multi-jurisdiction Internet.

If you look at current UAE legal practice, for instance, I think you’ll find pretty much anything electronic is going to involve high risk, a lot of court-appointed experts and a great deal of wasted time. Like two years of it.

So I guess it's lucky that we're such honest little bears, isn't it?


DXBluey said...

It reminds me of the great sampling debates of 1980's in dance music... there has always been a fair use arguement there - however if you can prove that it originated from your recording or composition and it is recognisable then there is a claim...

obv. different here - but it's all down to what is agreed as fair use and also in which territory - the internet is a minefield... bloging on blogger from the UAE - are you governed by UAE or US law?

more here for this:

Keefieboy said...

I was involved in a joint TV/webcast a few years ago. Some content (B-roll filler) had been supplied by a third party and involved several pieces of very well known, obviously copyrighted material. Getting permission to use these from the various publishers was a nightmare. I ended up muting the soundtrack on these segments during the webcast.

But I think small quotes and links/acknowledgements are perfectly ok. What's not ok is someone reproducin vast tracts of material and givin the impression that it is their own work.

alexander... said...

LOL, Bluey. I was also involved in the great sampling debate - the end of which, arguably, was the Verve Catastrophe.

My point precisely, though. Blogging from here, you're governed by a publishing and media law that Thomas Caxton would recognise as relevant...

alexander... said...

KB: Agree. It's the grey areas in between that I think are interesting though.

So I'll post up the text of yer book APART from the last chapter...


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