To return to my simplistic scenario, I see something publically accessable
on the web. By your definition, copyright notices or not, it was authored
and is therefore copyright. Though by that definition, my shopping list
is also copyright. I find the information interesting and/or useful and
make a local copy of that information. We could call this a "backup for
personal use", no infringement.
It's not "my definition". It's the definition of the Berne convention, a
convention about copyright law signed by almost any country in the world,
including the USA. It states that creative works are copyrighted, and
that copyright notices are not required. Your shopping list is copyrighted
if you can convince a court it was a creative work.
A friend comes around to my house and he views my local copy of this
information on my machine. Is this analogous to watching a movie
together? I would have had to have bought or hired the movie, thereby
getting licence to view it. The aforesaid information came freely from
the web. No one was paid. Am I going beyond the remit of "Personal use"
by showing it to my friend?
Whether or not you pay is not relevant whether you infringe copyrights
or not. Though it may play a role if you get sued for damages. Even
if you don't pay, the original author might lose money (say, by not
getting pay for "ad hits"). I don't think you'd be breaking the spirit
of the law by doing so. Note also there's no difference whether the
other person is a friend or a stranger.
A step further, he rings me later and asks to view the information
again, so I make it available (to him only for sake of argument) via
some mechanism of communication. Am I or is he breaking the spirit or
actual law by doing this?
IMO, you are breaking the law. You're distributing a copyrighted work.
It would be like faxing a book to him.
The next step of course is when he takes a local copy to his machine from
my machine. What's the legal position now? Did he break the law? Would
I be in breach A) if I knew he had done so? b) If I didn't?
I don't think there's a difference between this step and the previous one.
I am no great expert on the law, but in the context of the original
question in the post, I am struck by the absurdidty of the notion
that information made freely available via the web can be subject to
the restriction of "you may view this information freely, but only on
You can't tape a movie from a tv channel and give a copy to anyone who
asks for it either without breaking the law.
Look, if you copy something from the net and make it available to others,
you are very likely to get away with it. And even if you get sued,
you might not have to pay damages even if you lose. But that doesn't
make it legal, let alone ethical. What's so hard respecting the wishes
of the author, and be conservative if you don't know the wishes? I certainly
would like for people to respect my wishes and to not republish something
I have withdrawn.