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Randy Cassingham

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bullet  The NFL's Copyright: Round Two

The NFL Gives In! -- see Update Below

There's an interesting update on the story and discussion last week about the NFL's fight against churches -- the NFL warned churches not to show the Super Bowl game to parishioners due to copyright restrictions. Wendy Seltzer is a visiting assistant professor at Brooklyn Law School, where she teaches Internet Law, Information Privacy, and Copyright. She's also a fellow with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, and was previously an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She also founded the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, which studies and combats the unwarranted legal threats that "chill" free speech online. "Chilling Effects offers resources for Internet users who face legal threats, and, through its collection of data, we hope to analyze the out-of-court effects of those threats to chill legitimate activity, or, conversely, the extent to which unlawful activity on the Net proves resistant to legal action." In short, she knows copyright law very well.

So Prof. Seltzer posted a clip from the Super Bowl on YouTube -- a very short snippet where the announcers read the copyright notice about the game. Anyone who has watched a football game knows the drill: "This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or of any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent, is prohibited." She particularly objected to the prohibition against "accounts of the game" -- technically, that means you can't tell someone about a great play, or even the game's final score. That's certainly way beyond reason -- and way beyond what copyright law allows them to protect. (Copyright law protects the "expression" of a work's creator; it does not protect simple facts, which is why, for instance, I can re-write factual news stories for commentary in This is True).

Further, the "Fair Use" clause of copyright law allows for very limited portions of a copyrighted work to be reproduced for educational use or for legitimate commentary. Thus law professor Wendy Selzer's posting the snippet of the announcers reading the copyright notice for the purpose of educating the public about how the NFL is exaggerating its rights to prohibit things that copyright law doesn't prohibit, and commenting on that fact, is perfectly legal according to the law. But you guessed it: the NFL invoked the "Digital Millennium Copyright Act" and demanded that YouTube (now owned by Google) delete her video snippet. And YouTube did. Oh, the irony!

Prof. Selzer has filed a DMCA "Counter-Notification" using a tool provided by her very own Chilling Effects site. She has demanded that YouTube replace the deleted video since it clearly does not violate the law. She pointed out (heh heh!) that the DMCA contains a provision "encouraging" ISPs to correct the deletion of non-offending material taken down after a DMCA complaint. The encouragement, she points out, is "They're immunized from suit by their users if they put [it] back."

Another Example

I've gone through this myself. The Associated Press newswire's copyright notice is similarly overreaching. It proclaims on its articles, "Copyright 2007 Associated Press, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed." All that is fine and good -- except the "rewritten" part. No one can write a new news story based on the facts contained in their stories? That's what journalists, especially columnists, do. There is no way they can enforce such a prohibition.

But in 2001, the Associated Press tried to -- against me. AP sent me a "cease and desist" from using the facts from AP articles for the purpose of commentary. How could they possibly know I was doing it? The only way they could know is because I identify the sources of my stories in my versions! It's at the end of each story, before my comment; "(AP)" notes a source story is from the Associated Press.

Yes, I fought back and yes, I won -- I refused, via my lawyer, to deny myself the very rights granted by the federal copyright law to use the facts to tell the story using my own expression and style, and then to comment on the story. I did (and do) the right thing by identifying the source of those facts in every story I write. AP backed off, but it still cost me over $1,000 in lawyer time to uphold my rights. "Chilling" indeed.

Copyright law provides for a copyright -- literally, the "right to copy" -- so that authors can profit from a work's creation as encouragement to create works for the public to consume. In exchange for that exclusivity on the right to copy, which includes the right to license those rights to others (so, for instance, I can sell a book collection of This is True stories to a large publisher for further distribution), the public gets a rich variety of intellectual property to be better informed and more entertained. And then the public later gets full rights to that material: after a set amount of time, the work falls into the "public domain" so everyone has that "right to copy" it. Both authors and the public benefit from this arrangement.

At least, that's the theory. Per the U.S. Constitution, authors get an exclusive right to distribute and sell our work for what's supposed to be a limited amount of time, but thanks to corporate lobbying that amount of time has been extended again and again; it's now 70 years after the death of the author. For works created by corporations, it's 95 years after the date of first publication, or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever happens first, so this year's Super Bowl will be under copyright until the year 2102. I consider that excessive, in part because Congress made that retroactive so that, for instance, Disney movies which would be out of copyright by now still aren't. Guess what corporation lobbied for that? Sure enough: Disney. But that's the subject of a different rant.

The bottom line: the NFL is exceeding its authority by demanding the right to prohibit the public from giving "accounts of the game" to others, just as the Associated Press exceeds its authority by demanding the right to prohibit anyone from "rewriting" the facts in its news stories. I called AP's bluff when they fought me, and I heartily endorse Wendy Seltzer's efforts to call the NFL's bluff.

March 6 Update:

Youtube responded to Wendy Seltzer's DMCA counter-notice and, proving they understood the concept of fair use, restored the video. Except that the NFL apparently complained again, and YouTube took it down again. Right hand, meet the left hand -- maybe you should watch what it's doing?

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24 Comments on This Entry

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Posted by Bev in NC on February 17, 2007:

You got my attention on this one! Wal-Mart has a similiar overreaching policy regarding the copying of photographs. They have gone so far as to produce a tri-fold explaining their policy - "Copytright Policy and You". It states that they are following the Constitution and "the Copyright Act of 1976".

It states: " . . .Wal-Mart Photo Centers will not copy a photograph that is signed, stamped or otherwise identified by any photograper or studio, unless we are presented with a signed Copyright Release from the photographer or studio"

All well and good so far BUT then they continue their policy with "In addition, we will not copy a photograph that APPEARS (my emphasis) to have been taken by a professional photographer or studio, even if it is not marked with any sort of copyright, unless we are presented with a signed Copyright Release from the photographer or studio."

This presents a true problem for several reasons. The first being that it is generally VERY YOUNG adults who are working this department and making these decisions. And secondly, that it now makes it impossible to copy old family photographs at any copy center because apparently other businesses are taking the lead from Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart does not care to hear the facts of the situation, for instance that EVERYONE in the photograph is dead so also most likely is the photographer. Tough to get him to sign a release. He probably died without knowing that his last act on earth should have been to write a letter to Wal-Mart. They do not care to consider that before 1978 NO photgraphs had copyright protection. They do not need to consider that the most recent photograph being copied was from 1950 and that all others were older. Customers are told to get a "signed release or don't bother coming back."

By the same magic that Wal-Mart used to be the protector of all photographers both living and dead, I was able to acquire their required release, no questions asked!

Posted by Steve, Missouri on February 17, 2007:

I quite agree with the notion that copyright holders are trying to grab far more than they are rightly owed at times – illustrated particularly in the questions regarding the legality of, say, describing a particularly exciting play from the Superbowl. The human memory is far more advanced than any storage-and-retrieval system ever devised by man. How long will it be until someone decides that you – having observed a particular sporting event, a newscast, or a cinematic or aural production – now owe them royalties for the right to retain your memory of the copyrighted material you witnessed?

Absurd, you say; but wait: You have surely heard the specific prohibition of storage or retrieval, in any form, digital or otherwise, of "this copyrighted broadcast". According to those terms, if they could be strictly enforced, your memory infringes the copyright.

Posted by Mike from Dallas on February 17, 2007:

Remember the Robber Barons in your history class? Henry Ford was nearly shut down in the beginning because someone named George Selden held a patent on gasoline engines. It was an overly broad interpretation of the patent and the court struck it down. Now it seems to be returning to those times.

Buy a software package, and it can be used on only ONE computer in your home. Can you imagine buying a CD and being able to play in ONLY one CD player in your home? Well, now you understand DRM (Digital Rights Management).

Few people remember when VCR's first hit the mass market that blank tapes cost nearly $15. That was because it was ASSUMED that they were being used to copy SOMEBODY'S work, and so a hefty portion of that $15 went to the RIAA for distribution among all members. It was struck down by the court in the 1980's and blank tapes plummeted to as low as $1.50.

It sounds good when copyright law is used to protect against theft and plagiarism, but more often it's used to restrict or eliminate any concept of competition even in an unrelated industry.

A lot like the spoiled little kid who screams "MINE!" and selfishly grabs each and every toy that somebody else picks up to look at. My dog does that to protect his food bowl from the cat, but I don't expect large corporations to display the same attitude toward the very consumers it purports to market.

Doesn't it make you wonder how libraries escaped the copyright debacle?

Posted by Mike from Dallas on February 17, 2007:

I own several homes which I rent to tenants. There are times, of course, when it becomes obvious that the tenants no longer intend to pay rent. I can take them to court to evict them. That takes money AND a lot of time.

So, I can padlock the house until they come to me and agree to gather their belongings and willingly vacate the house. Abuse of power? You betcha. Effective? Yes, because most people can't afford to, or don't know that they can, fight back.

What's the worst that will happen to me? If the tenant knows his rights, he can complain to the local consumer protection agency and I have to remove the padlock. Then I take them to court to evict them. Same as if I'd done that in the first place, BUT... I may have saved myself time and expense if the majority of the tenants don't fight back.

Same thing with large corporations who hold copyrights. For real damages and losses, there are means to recover thos losses. But too often, it's an abuse of power against those too weak or unknowledgeable to fight back.

No, I'm not anti-Big Business, just the opposite. But as Petey's uncle told him in Spiderman, "With great power comes great responsibility."

---

Yes, and many will argue you're exercising rights without responsibility with your actions. It's hard to condemn you for it, though, since you're "right" while also being outside the law -- the law is unfairly balanced against right and wrong. Yet I'm not sure it fully relates, since I don't think copyright law is unfairly balanced against right and wrong (or, if it is, it's because it unfairly benefits corporations by its excessively long terms, but again that's not to the point of this particular essay). In any case, as you indicate, it's a complicated issue. -rc

Posted by Steve, Virginia on February 17, 2007:

First, one must understand that copyright laws are slanted towards those who have the money. They are the ones who can easily gain the ear of the politicians who make the laws. While there may be a fallout of some benefits for others, in the end, they end up being more restrictive for all. Once they have what they want, or near what they want, in writing, they will take advantage of it and press the limits of the law.

When it comes time for them to enforce what they think the law should give them, what are they going to do? Are they going to go for the big fish, the one that can fight back, and, perhaps, beat them at their own game? Not likely. They will go after a small fish, or a number of small fish, who do not have the means to fight back effectively, and may just roll over before them, thus establishing a precedent that their claims are within the law, whether they may be or not. Then, with that precedent, they can wave a larger club.

So, what are we, mere mortals, to do? Pretty much go about our business. If you use a copyrighted source, give attribution. If someone decides to sue you for that use, fight back. If you need help, you should be able to find it. There are any number of organizations out there that could give you help. Try to take advantage of it. Keep your ear to the ground, listen for happening in Congress or other areas of government, national and local, and write your congresscritter, or other official expressing your feelings in clear concise language and encourage others to do so.

---

Just to be clear, "attribution" does not absolve one of copyright infringement. It's the right thing to do when quoting something, or saying where you heard some fact, but "I gave you credit!" is not a defense for infringement. Other than that, your advice is good. -rc

Posted by Ryan from Edmonton, Alberta ~ Canada on February 17, 2007:

As a photographer who has worked professionally, I have had to come to grips with what copyright means to me. The origins of copyright, as I understand, is to give reasonable time to profit from works of art. After one or two years the photos mean very little to me financially so I forgo my copyright for it.

As a modern global society profit can be made within initial release of a product. Take a movie that grosses 100 million, with production cost of $50 million, money is earned. The Super Bowl had over 90 million viewers? How much did it earn? Now I understand that the objection will be, ”are they not paying for other cost too?” In the movie example how many movies got made that didn't earn money? I come back to the original point. What is reasonable and what is greed?

In our digital age copyright material is stolen faster and easier every day. I think it is greed on all parties parts, but the majority of responsibility lies on the corporations shoulders. Take Windows XP home that was selling in Canada for $299 until last month. It is a 6 or 7 year old product, have they not earned their share back? (To answer that simply look at the founder of Microsoft!) Mike brings up a great point. Installed on more than one computer is allowed under the law with it only being used by one computer at a time (in Canada at least). The license says only one period and will stop at nothing to prevent you from trying. To me this is pure greed.

The solution? In our society if we cannot make a reasonable profit from a product in 5 years, we have the ability to provide a improved version. For me, my stock photography from 5 years ago stinks compared to my work as I evolve a photographer. George Lucas’s effects are the same. If we focus less on our greed, and more on our evolution we become happier and more creative. Thus better products come out and we progress faster. The side effects are plenty and very apparent. More companies distributing the products makes the costs go down. Take VCR’s for example. Theft will be down as a by product. I guess it could make a better community in general but for now I will take of my rose colored glasses...

Lastly, think about this, why does the NFL care about ratings? More people watching means the more the can justify charging for everything from souvenirs to tickets to advertisers. The hype add coins to their pockets. Is that okay? Yes in our free world economy it is, but don’t use government to justify your greed! How much time is reasonable for them? 5 minutes of game time? 10 Minutes?

---

If the photos you take aren't valuable after two years, it's your decision to release their copyright. And that's the entire point: it's your decision. I happen to love "antique" photos -- they're worth something to me. If you created them, why shouldn't you be paid for them? It's not up to me to decide, "Oh, these are more than two years old so I can take them." It's up to you to decide. And that is how it should be. You spent the time taking them, you spent the money for the camera equipment, you drove your car to the site, etc. If you can't get paid for your effort, you'll stop doing it -- and the world will be a poorer place for the lack of your art. It's not up to me to decide when you've been paid back, when you've moved to profit, or when you've moved to "greed". What's the key here: all of that is, and should be your decision. -rc

Posted by Mike from Dallas on February 18, 2007:

Randy, apparently I wasn't as clear as I'd intended. I was comparing myself to the NFL. The fact that I can get away with padlocking doors against my tenants (similar to the NFL over-stating their copyright) doesn't make it actually legal. It's an abuse of power, and that's what a lot of us get away with. Especially since the little guy, most often, has no means to take us on in court. In other words, I don't REALLY padlock doors against deadbeat tenants. Although there is really no penalty if I do, it's still not legally right, and I insist that responsibility must accompany power.

---

Thanks for the clarification. -rc

Posted by Scott, in Killeen, Texas on February 19, 2007:

1. Ryan, I suspect that if one of your pictures suddenly became of interest (i.e., worth a significant amount of money, like a million bucks or so) for some reason, well after your self-imposed two year limit, you'd like to get money for it. :)

2. I get the impression that as far as copyright and patent law are concerned (at least as originally intended), there is no such thing as "intellectual property". The work of art is not property, the copyright is, and even that is only for a limited term under restricted circumstances.

3. I think that some changes to US copyright and patent law would help. I think the terms were a bit long already before the extensions, but I understand the need to conform with international law, and I also understand the need to discourage the untimely deaths of copyright/patent holders. However, if the copyrighted material is not available to the public under reasonable terms (on-demand printing is quite cheap nowadays), or if a patent holder makes no deliberate attempt to immediately sell or license (for reasonable terms) the device described by the patent, then I don't see much purpose in the holder keeping the protection ("submarine" patents have been sunk in the US, I believe). If it's not accessible, it does not benefit the public good.

Posted by Scott in Chicago on February 19, 2007:

Scott and Ryan -

An example of a worthless photograph that suddenly became extremely valuable is a digital photo some press photographer took, showing Monica Lewinsky in a beret cheesing at Bill Clinton at some event or another - three or four years before she and he ever became known for their mutual love for cigars.

It went from nothing to the most valuable photograph on the planet (for a little while) in zero seconds flat!

Whoever decided not to delete the file and to preserve copyright on it suddenly became a very happy fellow.

Posted by Greg in Seattle on February 19, 2007:

It's worth noting that copyright not only gives an author the right to profit from his work, but to control its publication.

There are a lot of my jokes floating around the net. Usually, I just ask someone to credit me and link to me if I find them using on on their web site, but if they're using it to populate a splog, I can demand its removal. I don't have to give them the option of using it if they pay me. I can just make them stop using it.

While the ability to profit from my work is an important component of copyright, I believe the right to control who is able to reprint it is equally important.

Posted by Rene, Austria on February 20, 2007:

I don't know about the specifics about US copyright laws, but over here it is illegal to take "Quotes" from videos or audio material and post them, while it is legal to quote from a text.

I think that is so because you not only infringe on the "intelectual property" of the "work".

BUT there could be no full copyright protection of something like the Superbowl here, because it is no invented story, but only a report on something that is happening anyway. They might get the full copyright on the show-parts. For the game itself they could only get the reproduction rights as the owners of the equipment used to film and transmit the show, which run for 40 years here, I believe.

---

It is surprising that Austria apparently doesn't follow the Berne Convention, a treaty which is supposed to normalize laws between countries, and provide for international protections on a similar basis. The U.S. adopted it some years ago. -rc

Posted by John in South Carolina on February 20, 2007:

As I understand it, what is being copyrighted is the broadcast, not the actual game itself. If you could sneak in the equipment to broadcast the game, either through commentary or video, what is to stop you from doing it? Copyright won't - the game is not copyrighted. On the other hand, if you do broadcast it, then your work is copyrighted and you have all the rights to it.

---

On the other hand, the Chicago Cubs sued bars around Wrigley Field for letting customers watch baseball games over the wall. The legal premise: copyright violation. It didn't go to court: most of the bars settled rather than fight it. The case is covered in my True Stella Awards book. -rc

Posted by Thor Johnson on February 20, 2007:

Randy said: If the photos you take aren't valuable after two years, it's your decision to release their copyright. And that's the entire point: it's your decision. I happen to love "antique" photos -- they're worth something to me.

I love original prints... they have a uniqueness to them that shows through as time progresses... but I'm not sure what to think about a copy of the photograph (film or otherwise - C41 film doesn't age the same way as old slide film).

I would like to believe in the Public Domain growing and providing knowledge to all, but it doesn't seem to be able to grow today's environment unless the license is explicitly declared from the start (eg, the Creative Commons class of licenses).

Then again, I'm in the medical field, so if all we can protect is our "first implementation", we're going to go out of business once somebody starts copying our device without having to repay investors for the whole FDA process.

It's complicated.... but I am really upset about the land grabs commonly found in "licenses" these days (NFL recounts, AP newswire stuff, any form of EULA, etc).

And I'm not sure I quite agree with Greg about the ability to control the use of the work once it has been exposed to the public (I'll use film references here but the Audio industry also has a lot of issues wrt sampling, beats, etc). OT1H, if somebody took what I did and used it in an unpalatable way (eg, using our system to torture animals), I would find that reprehensible. OTOH, I've seen many pieces of art on DeviantArt and other places where it was a thought-provoking beautiful mix of other sources, and I'm not sure the original artist would be happy with the "contamination" of their art. Yet I was enriched by the secondary party (and did not even know of the original); can such a request be honestly refused.

Is it right, for example, for Disney to take Snow White, make it into an animated feature, then lock it away (seemingly for all time)? At what point can you use some of the more Disney features (in my book, Snow White was strangled with ribbons -- but I don't know which version came from where)?

OTOH, Would you object to Pixar's use of Sleeping Beauty concepts in Shrek (and Shrek II)?

I have admiration for both pieces, but:

All artists know that their ideas draw from others... is it right to prevent new artists from drawing from theirs?

Posted by Dennis, Lansdale, Pa on February 21, 2007:

Is the AP notice typical of the copyright law? ("Copyright 2007 Associated Press, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.") If so, what bothers me is where do reference books, i.e. encyclopedias, atlases, etc., stand on this law? If you cannot rewrite copyrighted material how do we expect students to do research? "Oh, look at this. I found some great information about this subject, but I am not allowed to write about it!" Of course, I may be totally wrong about how reference material is handled and you should just ignore this post.

---

The answer to your question is no, and your scenario is part of the reason why. The biggest reason why, though, is because it's simply wrong to prohibit what the law doesn't allow them to prohibit, and most publishers are plenty content with what the law does allow. -rc

Posted by John in Atlanta, GA on February 23, 2007:

Thor said: Is it right, for example, for Disney to take Snow White, make it into an animated feature, then lock it away (seemingly for all time)? At what point can you use some of the more Disney features (in my book, Snow White was strangled with ribbons -- but I don't know which version came from where)?

As I understand copyright, Disney has no control over the Snow White or Sleeping Beauty stories -- they are in the public domain. Anyone is free to tell the Snow White story, or even make their own Snow White animated movie. What Disney has copyright on is the Disney animated movie, and probably anything they added to the story -- for example, the names and personalities of the dwarves, or the "Hi-Ho" song -- but not the poisoned apple, or the major plot points of the story.

As a rule of thumb, if it's already in the public-domain literature, you can't copyright it.

Posted by Mike from Dallas on February 24, 2007:

See the problem? Does it REALLY need to be THAT complicated? Which part is copyrighted? Which part isn't? Under what circumstances? By what intention?

It's pretty simple, folks, if you take someone else's work and pass it off as your own, it's theft. If you simply dump it into the public domain against the owner's wishes, then you've still devalued it. Same as watering down the whiskey.

As for whether I watch it for free in my own living room or in someone else's living room, who cares??? And the ratings system is a smoke screen. Most of Arbitron's and Nielsen's surveys are simply a log of which programs you watch, not where. And Nielsen only sets up 1500 boxes out of more than 100 million homes to remotely track programs.

I have a store with my business office in back. I spend many hours at the store and, sometimes, I like to catch the hockey game in my office. So I installed cable TV. Since it's a Business, I must pay a much more expensive business rate for my cable, not residential. Why? Because it's located at a business and I just MIGHT try to profit by the cable feed into that business. That is the problem many people have with the copyright laws. The law presumes you are guilty until proven innocent. Even before any 'crime' has been committed.

Posted by Ryan from Edmonton, Alberta ~ Canada on February 24, 2007:

When I made comments earlier, I think I should have been a bit clearer. When I did portrait or wedding photos (i.e. a event that I get paid to do) after two years I have little more to profit from it. I give my client the option of purchasing the negatives (yes I still have my 645 film cameras and a 35mm!) My stock stuff, I haven't made anything on yet and I just keep shooting because of the love of it. And yes old prints are awesome.

I think this has been said but to restate and reaffirm: It depends on the "artist" (or owner) and it depends on the circumstance.

However when reason is no longer reasonable, who can step in and advocate? (Like the Wal-Mart example from Bev) It seems “He who has the biggest pockets wins”. Every time. Maybe this isn’t a discussion on what is wrong with the copyright or the NFL. Maybe, just maybe, it is a problem that reflects our “me” society?

When we help others we help ourselves. When we don’t we stop growing. When I cannot draw upon another for inspiration (personally, professionally or even as a artist) I become stagnant and cease to create. When corporations abuse power and are allowed it hurts everyone.

---

I don't think you've made any changes to your stance. Again it's up to you to sell your negatives to your customer -- and it's only because of the law that you can! And indeed wedding photos can be valuable two -- even 20 -- years later. What happens if "that guy" whose wedding you photographed later becomes Prime Minister? Or a serial killer? You just never know.

And yes, the point and the discussion is more wide ranging than just about the NFL (or churches); just like True itself, the whole point is to spark thought and discussion, and come to understand the larger context. True isn't about "weird news"; even though it's mostly fun and entertaining, it's really all about the human condition. -rc

Posted by Thomas from Misissippi on February 26, 2007:

I see the NFL copyright pertaining only to the specific commentary presented. The factual information falls in the same category as any other new report, and is not covered by the copyright law.

Then again, copyright is far too long on all works, and applied in inappropriate ways.

My biggest peeve being photographs/portraits. They are works for hire, and the purchaser should own the rights. Just like if I pay someone to install tile in my home, where I own the end product not the installer, If I pay someone to take photographs (or paint a picture) I own the end result. My payment covers the photographer's skills and equipment which I may not have access to. Photographer/painters should remember that if I had not paid for this work, then it wouldn't exist at all.

My father was a independent portrait photographer for most of my childhood. I grew up in the industry. While I have the skills to do the work, I don't have the equipment, since thousands of dollars worth of equipment is an unjustified expense. So I pay someone else for thier time and equipment do the job.

Posted by Andi from North Carolina on February 28, 2007:

Randy said: If the photos you take aren't valuable after two years, it's your decision to release their copyright. And that's the entire point: it's your decision.

That's the most important part of copyright, and what it's intended to protect -- the creator's right to determine how and where the work will be copied and, therefore, used. And it is the creator's right. Whether you or I think the creator of the work is being greedy doesn't matter. He or she is the one who had the idea, skill, motivation, and talent to create the work; therefore, he or she gets to use it as he or she sees fit, whether that's giving it away for free now, charging for two years and then giving it away for free, or charging for as long as copyright allows.

As an independent digital artist who has had work stolen off my website more than once -- even though I have a copyright notice clearly posted -- copyright is an important issue to me. It takes a long time for me to create the 3D images that I do. Not only do I need to try to make some money from them to pay bills, but I also want to have a say in how they're used.

Unfortunately, places like ThePiratesBay encourage people to "share" illegal copies of music, movies, software, video games, etc. Once people get in the mindset that it's okay to "share" (ie, steal) this stuff, they don't just pirate from Big Business; they pirate anything digital that they can, even works from independent artists like me.

Wanna blame someone for how restrictive copyright law is becoming and how strict copyright holders are becoming about enforcing it? Blame pirateers. If people didn't illegally download and share files, things like DRM wouldn't have to exist.

Consider this -- if we did away with copyright law, what would stop music, movie, software or other businesses from getting a demo tape from a new artist, liking the song, and releasing it as a single or using it in a movie WITHOUT PAYING THE ARTIST? Copyright law doesn't just protect big business; it's also there to make sure new and independent artists don't get screwed.

On software: Read the EULA. Some software allows for it to be installed on only one computer, some in multiple computers in the same household, and even some in multiple computers in multiple locations as long as only one person uses it. If you're unclear what the EULA allows, email the software company and ask.

And remember that profits from older, previously released, but still popular software (and music, movies, etc) help pay costs to develop new titles.

On the Fair Use Clause: Per the US Copyright site, Fair Use is only a defense for copyright infringement. You're still infringing on the copyright holder's right to copy, but you're saying, "I have a good reason." You can still be taken to court, though, and your Fair Use defense might or might not be upheld.

One last thing: You cannot copyright an idea; you can only copyright the expression of that idea. So, no, the NFL and AP can't tell you that you can't "rewrite" or "retell" a game or news article as a result of their copyright.

Posted by Mike from Dallas on March 4, 2007:

If the Law is the Law is the Law, everything would be cut & dried. There would be no need for lawyers. Ever hear that expression? "Ask 4 different lawyers a question and get 5 different opinions." The Law is never clear which is why there are always two, or even more, sides to any lawsuit.

Copyright law should be to serve the public interest, not the corporate interest. But you don't see John Doe rushing to Congress with all his briefs and lobby money to make sure the Congressmen keep the law in the public interest. But you sure do see many corporations lobbying full time in an attempt to hijack the copyright laws FROM the public interest.

In many cases, copyright law does still serve the public interest, but there is another consideration. Ever hear of Predatory Lawsuits? These are lawsuits that have no merit, or barely so, that companies bring against each other AND against citizens with the deliberate attempt to use seemingly unlimited financial, rather than legal, pressure to force a surrender from the weaker party.

I see a rather naive conviction that, once one sells a copyright, that one still owns control over where and how it's used. While it may be a negotiating item during the sale, it holds little value afterward. One might sue the party which bought the copyright, but that entails considerable more expense and not necessarily a likelihood of success. A number of unbelievably poor movies, compared to reasonably good books, comes to mind.

I enjoy the logic when someone suggests that the only alternative to bad legal precedent is to do away with the law entirely, which would be a worse scenario and, therefore, we should all shut up and be grateful that it's not worse.

As for pirates, there have been pirates for hundreds of years, which is why copyright law goes all the way back to the beginning of American law. But in an effort to 100% eliminate any possibility of theft, the law has been hijacked to punish the legitimate consumers and cause unnecessary damage to competing companies in related fields.

And finally, a suggestion to contact the software company about its EULA for clarification is the same as asking the fox if it's okay for him to be in the henhouse. Remember when the phone company used to try charging you for each additional telephone on the same line? Or when the cable TV company tried to charge you for each additional TV hooked up to the cable input to your home? Same thing when I spend $500 for a software package and want to sometimes use it on my desktop computer, and other times on my laptop computer.

As companies try restricting copyright even further, piracy groups will increase in protest. There are already enought incentives to part with a few bucks that companies don't need to threaten us with bankruptcy to squeeze two bits more out of us.

Posted by Rob Golding (AU) on April 24, 2007:

When my wedding photos were taken, it was under 'worker for hire' conditions and the photographer was reminded, before starting, that all copyrights were ours. Our contract with him required ALL originals and mediums (film, memory, etc) were to be handed over to us on completion.

We did this due to the problems my siblings had with copyright when copies of their weddings were wanted for overseas family.

This was in the early eighties and photographic companies were getting very draconian about copyright and charging exorbitant fees for copies.

One company even tried (but failed, thankfully) to get away with saying private photos taken at one brother's wedding were covered under their copyright! Outrageous, but true.

I now do this for any event, private or public, I host.

Posted by Mike from Dallas on April 25, 2007:

Didn't Microsoft try that for awhile? Try claiming that any material created using their Front Page software automatically made the material to be THEIR copyright?

I remember years ago, working as a broadcast engineer, having to sign a contract that all intellectual material created by me remained the property of the TV station and its owners. Okay, I might see that when it came to my work on their time. But it applied even to work on my own personal time at home. Additionally, it applied to ALL intellectual material, not just material relevant to my job in the TV industry. Granted, if I found a cure for cancer, and the TV station tried to claim it belonged to them, I could fight it in court and possibly win. But at what cost to me in both money AND time?

Posted by Paul, Painted Post on January 14, 2008:

How about round three of the NFL vs. the "Thou Shalt" show the Super Bowl in 2008? Any further info?

---

I haven't heard anything about any changes for 2008. -rc

Posted by Ana, USA on October 30, 2009:

About the copyright part: NFL isn't the only company that complains about unauthorized use or even 'fair use' of their material on YouTube and Dailymotion and sites like that. MLB Advanced Media is way worse with their material. They don't allow even a second of MLB footage dating back to the 1970s or thereabouts to be posted on YouTube. Meanwhile, people are trying to post the whole game or even sell it on pirated DVD and THAT is much worse!

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