||08-23-2012 04:44 PM
Copyright, the DMCA, and "cut and paste"
Our Early Retirement Forum recently received what is known as a DMCA “takedown notice” that resulted in the removal of a post on the basis of alleged copyright infringement. After discussion among the moderators and administrators, we felt that it would be an opportune time to discuss the issue of “cut and paste”, copyright and the DMCA.
In the course of daily lives, we often come across interesting, provocative, humorous and/or informative articles that we would like to share with our fellow ER-Org members. We suspect, rightly in most cases, that the result will be a fun and interesting exchange of views with our fellow members. Unfortunately, we are sometimes tempted to “cut and paste” the entire article into our post when we want to share. And that, dear members, is a big no-no. Why? In a word, copyright.
When an author spends considerable time and effort to craft a witty or informative article, she wants to be able to keep others from stealing the fruit of her labors and claiming it as their own. The motive may be to protect her ability to profit from her work, to prevent use by those with whom she disagrees, or simply to have the world recognize her as the rightful author of such clever work. The motive is irrelevant; she has a copyright in the work and others may not publish it without her consent. She may grant an exclusive license to a magazine, for example. Or non-exclusive licenses to multiple magazines. In any case, if she has not granted you a license to publish it, you may not. This was the law long before the internet was ever invented, and it remains the law today.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), enacted in 1998, was an effort to bring copyright law into the new Digital Age. It addressed a number of issues, such as circumventing anti-piracy technology, but for present purposes the main effect is that it added some truly draconian penalties for copyright violations. Those who are found to have published copyrighted materials on-line without permission can be hit with up to $25,000 in civil damages. In extreme cases, a criminal violation might be found, with a fine of up to $500,000 and five years in jail, or both, for a first offense. And, perhaps even more concerning, a court may issue an injunction shutting down a website that illegally publishes copyrighted material.
With passage of the DMCA, internet service providers and websites were deeply concerned about being held liable for copyright violations in materials posted by third parties, such as members of a forum. As a result of their lobbying, Congress also passed the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (OCILLA) in 1998. OCILLA provides a safe harbor for ISPs and websites to protect them from copyright infringement committed by their users or members. However, to take advantage of this safe harbor, the ISP or website must comply with the process laid out in the Act.
The way the process works is really quite simple. Someone who believes that their copyright has been infringed by a post on a website simply sends the site owner a letter demanding that the material be removed. This letter is known as a DMCA “takedown notice”. It must contain information prescribed in the Act, but assuming that requirement is met, the site owner must comply “expeditiously”. The term expeditious is not defined in the Act, but it is generally understood to require that steps be taken as soon as reasonably possible. Failure to act expeditiously can result in loss of the safe harbor and, in certain circumstances, could result in substantial liability and a shutdown of the site.
And that, esteemed fellow members, is the reason our Community Rules prohibit wholesale cut and paste of copyrighted articles, even very short items, and why the moderators remove such material when we find it. We really enjoy this forum and would not want to see it shut down for something that can be avoided. And we are sure all the membership feels the same way. So please, please, do not cut and paste entire articles, or even large chunks of them, unless you are the copyright holder.
One still may make “fair use” of small snippets of copyrighted materials. The best way to do that is to link to the article, block quote perhaps a sentence or paragraph from the article, and then provide your own commentary on the quoted material. Not only does this help comply with the law, it also starts better discussions by letting the rest of us know what you consider to be the most important part of the article and what your thoughts are on the matter. While it is easier to simply post a whole article with commentary limited, in essence, to “look what I found”, that often does not lead to the witty and interesting discussion we want. Spending a little extra time to do it right will not only aid in our compliance with the law, but will also make this an even better forum.