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(OT) Who can use freely available material?

by Ovid (Cardinal)
on May 28, 2002 at 19:57 UTC ( #169891=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Recently, I discovered a couple of interesting links to my CGI course. One was a link where a person had mirrored my course, but the mirror was old and the information was out of date. The other two links were provided by a private companies. Both of these give me pause. On the first, I don't mind anyone mirroring and using the information that I provide because that's why it's there. My email is intact, but none of the links point back to my course. I'm also somewhat concerned that others may choose to misrepresent the content as their own.

As for the commercial links, one was a site that offers online courses for people (but doesn't charge for them) and the other one was for the company's developers to get some background material on Web development.

I've also noticed a several .edu Web sites listing the course on their "links" page (usually tied specifically to the comp-sci departments).

All this got me to thinking. I don't have a copyright notice on the site. Nowhere does it list how people may or may not link to it. If I ever get the time, I might pitch a book deal based on this course. I have the site on my resume. I want people to know that the site is associated specifically with me to ensure that I increase my employability if I ever find myself in the position of looking for work.

Are their any legal issues that I should be worried about? I understand that the site is copyrighted as soon as I write it, but do I truly own all rights, or can others use it freely as they see fit, including attaching their own name to it? Are their any steps I can take to "protect" my intellectual property without restricting the availability of the information?


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  • Comment on (OT) Who can use freely available material?

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Re: (OT) Who can use freely available material?
by cjf (Parson) on May 28, 2002 at 20:40 UTC
    One was a link where a person had mirrored my course...

    Taking your content, and placing it on their servers for display without your permission is not a very polite thing to do. You would be completely justified in asking them to take it down and replace it with a link to your site.

    Nowhere does it list how people may or may not link to it.

    I haven't heard of a single country in which people need your permission to link to a website. Links that misrepresent the course (e.g. click here for the course cjf wrote ;) may be another matter.

    Are their any legal issues that I should be worried about?

    I would ask anyone mirroring your course to replace their mirror with a link. Suggest this is because you want to ensure the content is up to date and they'll likely agree. I wouldn't worry about who's linking to your site though, it's not something you can really control, and I'm not sure why you would want to.

    Update: As for a notice of copyright this says:

    The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U.S. law, although it is often beneficial. Because prior law did contain such a requirement, however, the use of notice is still relevant to the copyright status of older works.

    And a few more relevant links:

    Hope that helps :).

      I haven't heard of a single country in which people need your permission to link to a website

      This is subject still awaiting decision. There has been at least one high profile lawsuit, TicketMaster v. Microsoft, over this subject. The suit was eventually settled after two years passed, so unfortunately there was never a court decision in the case.

        Yes, this case law is emerging. Here is a recent article about a newspaper suing over someone linking to their site.

        Also according to Wired, won the case against Ticketmaster with the judge ruling "Hyperlinking does not itself involve a violation of the Copyright Act. There is no deception in what is happening. This is analogous to using a library's card index to get reference to particular items, albeit faster and more efficiently."

Re: (OT) Who can use freely available material?
by Abigail-II (Bishop) on May 29, 2002 at 11:15 UTC
    Just a few points.
    • Perlmonks, or any other place full of young geeks is not at all the right place to inquire about legal questions. You should consult a lawyer.
    • The copyright law is very clear. If you write it, you have the copyright. No notice required. And if it isn't absolutely clear the author put something in the public domain, you may not assume it is. The copyright law is the same in most countries (commonly known as the Berne convention). The US was one of the last countries to sign, back in 1989 IIRC.
    • What isn't very clear is the role of links or "frame hijacking". Hyperlinks didn't exist when the Berne convention was made, and there haven't been many law cases made yet. We can all call the people linking and copying your site bad names, but that doesn't help you. If you want to do something about it, get a lawyer.

      I know of one case (in the Netherlands), where the Dutch Railway sued a student who had "frame hijacked" one of their services. The student lost - on the bases that despite he wasn't technically copying the material, his site strongly suggested he was.

    • Note that nitpicking about technical details of when material is copied and when it isn't, is (luckely!) not going to work for the internet. Otherwise newsgroups, email, proxies and sites like perlmonks would all be in violation of the copyright law, as they all copy material without explicite consent of the copyright holder.


      I was not going to interject here but I think you're wrong in assuming PerlMonks is just full of young geeks. This is not to say it is an ideal place for legal advice, but there are certainly a good number of fairly respectable (and respectably aged, if you insist on that condition) monks who know enough to provide pointers. Certainly it is advisable to consult an actual lawyer - but the fellowship here can, so I like to believe, provide a good and valid starting point into the material. It is my observation that the level of "young geek"ishness at PM tends to be a whole lot lower than in just about any communal forum regardless of form I have come across in the past. (Which is a big reason I like this place. People here tend to be - and are more likely to behave like - adults more often than elsewhere by an order of magnitude at least.)

      Makeshifts last the longest.

        I'm with Abigail-II on this one: it isn't so much that PerlMonks is "just" full of young geeks, but that it has a large contingent of people whose opinions (and "knowledge") is based more on how they feel the law should be interpreted, rather than on how it has been in the past. More to the point, it's those people ("us", I should probably say, since I'm doubtless one of them) who are likely to reply to any request quickly and passionately, and provide heated (and probably bad) legal opinion. I'd expect this to happen regardless of whether they're slashdotties, skr1pt k1dd135, or mature thinkers.

        Case in point: is it legal to rip tracks off of several CDs and burn them onto a compilation? I'd expect that many Monks (I am among them) think it's perfectly legal -- fair use and all that -- but RIAA would have you believe otherwise... and to the best of my knowledge, this hasn't been tested in court since some of the scarier new legislation came into effect. If this was a potential legal problem of mine, I wouldn't want to be misled into thinking that my case was stronger than reality would dictate. Hence: go to a lawyer.

        So while the starting point PerlMonks might provide would be good and valid, it would (probably) also be biased, maybe dangerously.

        The hell with paco, vote for Erudil!

      I know of one case (in the Netherlands), where the Dutch Railway sued a student who had "frame hijacked" one of their services. The student lost - on the bases that despite he wasn't technically copying the material, his site strongly suggested he was.

      Oops :)

      - Yes, I reinvent wheels.
      - Spam: Visit eurotraQ.

Re: (OT) Who can use freely available material?
by footpad (Abbot) on May 28, 2002 at 20:46 UTC


    I believe you are correct in that you do have some protection in US Copyright for your work, but I also believe that you have stronger ones if you specifically claim copyright protection, as well as the rules for mirroring or linking to your work.

    This may be a question better posed to either our Monk in Exile or to the people on this site, who are (if not lawyers) at least knowledgeable in those areas. Better yet, you can get some guidance for free.

    In the mean time, you might email the mirroring sites and politely ask them to replace their copies with links to your pages. After all, they probably want to make sure that they're sending people to the latest and greatest revisions.


Re: (OT) Who can use freely available material?
by tjh (Curate) on May 29, 2002 at 00:55 UTC
    IANAL ... but have had direct experience with this issue many times, for what that's worth.

    While it may be strictly true in the U.S. that you don't need the copyright notice, that may not apply elsewhere. Also, as dws mentions, your intent isn't obvious. Is it open source content? Is it GNU licensed? etc... I now, after a painful education, believe taking obvious and constructive action to give notifications and actively protect intellectual property is a primary responsibility. Not that I didn't before, but it's certain that passive reliance on the good manners of others is unfortunately naive.

    Allow no mirroring without explicit written permission. When unpermitted copying, mirroring or other major uses are detected, immediately ask for it to be removed. Cases of mis-representing or _not_ representing ownership / authorship should be acted on instantly. Not acting to protect can be a legal issue should it ever come up.

    "... without restricting the availability of the information?" is handled by your publishing it on the web.

    Not that legalities (or my or anyone else's intrepretations of them) need to be abused in this thread - but not acting in advance to advise others and obviously signal your intent, or not acting to correct/protect after the fact - can become a real problem.

    I have read arguments that even other's linking to your site could become an issue for your over-achieving attorney. Not that I worry about being linked to, I like it and promote it, the more the better.

    But copying, over-excerpting, excerpting without attribution, all those things can become annoying problems.

    However, via a friendly copyright notice, maybe some explanation of how easily mirroring or copying can be achieved, can get you quite good results - plus some interesting contacts with those that are interested.

    I don't mind anyone mirroring and using the information that I provide because that's why it's there

    Is that really why it's there? For others to take at will? Or do you want to retain attribution and rights to a later course? Could it be possible that someone mirroring your site also publish it as their own? How would you prove the date of publication for the html, especially considering that the pages probably evolve.

    Ultimately, my experiences aren't near as dire as my tone makes it sound, but they were very real. Publishing on the web is a truly wonderful thing, but because the access is so universal, publishers really can't assume anything about rights and possible rip-offs.


Re: (OT) Who can use freely available material?
by dws (Chancellor) on May 28, 2002 at 23:46 UTC
    Are their any steps I can take to "protect" my intellectual property without restricting the availability of the information?

    The presence of a copyright signals your intent. The lack of a copyright obscures your intent.

    "You are granted permission to copy this material as long as the copy includes this copyright notice." is a common way of protected your right/ability to claim authorship. A good touch is to include a hyperlink to the original as part of the copyright.

Re: (OT) Who can use freely available material?
by Biker (Priest) on May 29, 2002 at 10:30 UTC

    A lot of vise thoughts and advices have been given about mirroring and linking to your work.

    What about frame-hijacking? (I.e. another site putting your pages in a frame of their site.) From a technical point of view this could be considered as a link. They tell the visitors browser to also get documents from your site. Logically and morally I feel this being a form of mirroring, though no physical copy of your work has been done. I'm not sure how a juridical department would define this behavior.

    Adding a copyright statement is one good step. Other steps may be to make sure your name is visible high up on each page and to use JavaScript (not perfect and not popular here) to make sure your page is not loaded in a frame. That is, unless you use frames on your own site.


    helps in many but not all cases.

    I would like to think that it's not necessarilly your responsibility to actively protect your work, people (and companies) should respect your right to your work. But reality isn't always that nice and taking some simple precautions may discourage at least the more lame attempts.
    Everything went worng, just as foreseen.

Re: (OT) Who can use freely available material?
by P0w3rK!d (Pilgrim) on May 29, 2002 at 16:43 UTC

    The bottom line is you need to copyright your material.

    Abigail is correct in pointing out legal guidance, but it is not a necessity for simply copyrighting your own material. Follow the instructions here and you should be all set.

    U.S. Copyright Office


    If you are considering patents for a software process or anything related to your writings, then contact my <A HREF=">patent attorney. From my past experience, patents are more complex and cost a lot of money for topics such as software, hardware, biotech, etc.

    Good luck brother!


    P.S. We're not all geeks! :)

Re: (OT) Who can use freely available material?
by Lexicon (Chaplain) on May 30, 2002 at 03:41 UTC
    This doesn't help you specifically I don't think... but if any of you university students get into some conundrum, your university may have free legal advice for you.

    I personally got a cease and desist from a company which still hasn't done anything with their website (no, I'm not bitter...honestly, if I were really bitter, I would mention their name...they had to shut me down to defend their copyright (sigh)).

    Anyway, my university gives free legal advice and I killed the site on their advice.

    The point is that some of you may have other recourses than an expensive lawyer. Check into it.

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