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Copyright and the Web: What is the Nature of Ownership?

If you're on facebook, you may have seen this piece already about a writer and editor's quibble over intellectual property and the web. Essentially, the writer found out to her great surprise that a piece from her blog ended up in print, without her permission, and the editor had the nerve to reply to her email with a pretty catty message. What's amazing is the editor's assumption that if something is printed on the Internet that it's public domain, and what's even more amazing is the tone of the response.

But the larger issue here is, of course, the devaluing of intellectual property, something that's happening more and more frequently, with lines that often blur. At what point does some kid's mashup of the latest Adam Lambert song become plagiarism? At what point does it infringe on copyright? And just because it's on you tube, that doesn't make it legal, right? And when is it appropriate to quote a snippet of someone else's blog, and when is it not? And how much of the material can legally be quoted without the author's permission?

In my research and writing classes at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, we discuss these and other intellectual property issues regularly. We talk about the ethics of using and even referring to other work, and, more importantly, the etiquette of asking for permission before reposting or recopying. Although I don't always succeed, I try to help students understand the basics of the law, what it means for them as students, and what it means out here in the big wide world.

In the ever changing landscape of social networking, blogging, and publishing, we're all out in the gunslinging world of the new century. But just because the lines haven't been drawn, that doesn't mean they don't exist. Even for Cooks Source magazine.


Mylène said…
EXCELLENT reminder. I for one do not post anything on the Web that I might hope to make money from one day. Keep your pearls under your sweater, or understand that they might be snatched.
Joni Rodgers said…
Urg. That editor's response is unfathomably stupid (as is bragging about that wienie resume), but you're so right; the larger issue is the underlying attitude. It's not just the disregard for intellectual property, it's the complete devaluation of the writer's work. Not only should she aspire to work for free, she should be thankful to be ripped off? head hurts.
I actually thought the whole thing was a hoax at first (and apparently I'm not the only one), but I have scoured the web, and at least, so far, it appears to be real. But it just seems almost too ridiculous to be true, especially if the editor has really been in business "three decades." Crazy.

Oh and Joni: wienie resume totally cracks me up! Ha ha ha ha ha! But you're so right!
I'm really bothered by the atmosphere of entitlement that's mushrooming out of control. People feel as if anything that can be copied is there for the taking, and far too many folks who should know better either don't or conveniently look the other way.

The "editor" in question is clearly so small-time, she's gotten by unnoticed with her amateur-hour antics. But now that she's been caught with her hands in the cookie jar, she's decided that getting away with something makes it perfectly ok.
Anonymous said…
I agree. Plagiarizing can be really annoying especially when you have put so much hard work in to it. In this technological age it's happen very often. This leads to the original website owner losing page rankings, traffic and revenue. Theft of website content is a rapidly growing problem and owners should check their content frequently to find out whether it is being used somewhere else. I use this plagiarism checking service Their service uses a vast amount of resources in plagiarism checking and offers up to 10 papers check for free.

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