Why Is It So Difficult To Opt-Out Of Copyright?

from the no-easy-way-to-get-into-the-public-domain dept

Every so often, when someone new shows up on Techdirt, reading a post about our complaints about overly aggressive copyright holders, they’ll make a comment along the lines of “well, you wouldn’t be saying that if someone took Techdirt’s content, copied it and started making money from ads! I’m going to do just that, and I bet you’ll be just as angry!” And, every time someone posts this, we end up linking back to the fact that a bunch of folks already do this, and we’re perfectly fine with it. Here’s the explanation I gave for why it’s fine with us a while back:

We have no problem with people taking our content and reposting it. It’s funny how many people come here, like yourself, and assume you’ve found some “gotcha.” You haven’t. There already are about 10 sites that copy Techdirt, post for post. Some of them give us credit. Some of them don’t. We don’t go after any of them.

Here’s why:

1. None of those sites get any traffic. By themselves, they offer nothing special.

2. If anything, it doesn’t take people long to read those sites and figure out that the content is really from Techdirt. Then they just come here to the original source. So, it tends to help drive more traffic to us. That’s cool.

3. As soon as the people realize the other sites are simply copying us, it makes those sites look really, really bad. If you want to risk your reputation like that, go ahead, but it’s a big risk.

4. A big part of the value of Techdirt is the community here. You can’t just replicate that.

5. Another big part of the value of Techdirt is that we, the writers, engage in the comments. You absolutely cannot fake that on your own site.

So, really, what’s the purpose of copying our content in the manner you describe, other than maybe driving a little traffic our way?

So, if you really want to, I’d suggest it’s pretty dumb, but go ahead.

I should note, by the way, that by ignoring these copycat sites, most go away. There’s one (relatively nicely designed one) that’s managed to stick around for a while, but most fade away pretty quickly. Still, we’re perfectly fine with people taking and repurposing our content. We hope they give us attribution, but we don’t worry too much if they don’t (actually, it would be even cooler if sites added more value to our content). There’s really no reason to spend much time thinking about it. Yet, we still get people emailing us all the time to ask for “permission” to reuse our content — and of course, we always “grant” the permission, even though they don’t need it at all.

Sometimes people ask us why we don’t put Techdirt under a Creative Commons license. The answer is that while CC-licenses are certainly a good overall concept and I think it’s great when people use a CC license, they still rely on copyright to function, and we believe that content creators should experiment with getting by entirely without copyright to see what happens — and we try to live up to what we promote. Of course, it’s actually a lot harder to do that then you might think. As Stephen Kinsella recently discovered putting your content into the public domain is incredibly difficult. In some cases, it’s not even possible. Thanks to (relatively recent) copyright law that grants a copyright the instant content is put into a fixed medium. And, while you can put a “public domain declaration” on content, it won’t apply in many countries. Effectively it’s nearly impossible to legally make your content public domain. So, as for us, we just leave things alone, and figure that most people will figure out sooner or later that they’re free to help promote our content by reusing it however they want.

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Comments on “Why Is It So Difficult To Opt-Out Of Copyright?”

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44 Comments
MC says:

You never came across...

It seems that you never came across a really really good site that copies your content and makes profits saying he wrote something that he actually didn’t. Suppose somebody copies all your articles, and starts publishing them as if they were writen by this person. The site gains fame, and nobody realizes that is a copy. How would you feel? Maybe you feel fine, it is possible. But I really dont think nobody can feel ok with this. Maybe you dont sue, but you will try to make people realize that the content is yours, which in some way is saying that is protected by copyright.

I repeat, maybe you don’t care, and what I wrote is usless, but I really think that in my hypothetical, you would worry. It’s true, maybe you don’t intend to profit from our site, but the other is profiting from your articles, your ideas, your way of writing, your time spent writing the article, etc. Thanks

lavi d (profile) says:

Re: You never came across...

Suppose somebody copies all your articles, and starts publishing them as if they were writen by this person. The site gains fame…

Therein lies the problem. The fake site might gain momentary “fame” on pirated content, but it will evaporate almost immediately for two reasons:

1)The original content is already available for free on the original site.

2)When people figure out they’re being “had” by a blatant plagiarist, they will never return (to the “fake” site).

ehrichweiss says:

Re: Re: You never came across...

More reasons than that. Googlebot checks techdirt quite frequently and “knows” they create original content so the other sites will show up as aggregator or duplicate sites and will get a much lower page rank than TD thereby dropping the copycat down on the search pages(the exact opposite of what they want). There are only a couple of ways around that but at that point the skills you have to develop can be used in many other places that are better to copy than techdirt.

Herman says:

Re: Re: You never came across...

“2)When people figure out they’re being “had” by a blatant plagiarist, they will never return (to the “fake” site).”

This illustrates why music and film copyright violations and your (partially but obviously conditionally waived)rights to your published articles aren’t comparable.

You describe a moral standard for your line of rights, that does not apply to music and film. When downloaders figure out that they’re “being had” by someone offering music or film they do not have rights to, they don’rt give a shit, and rather tell all their friends about this cool, free service.

LeBleu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You never came across...

“2)When people figure out they’re being “had” by a blatant plagiarist, they will never return (to the “fake” site).”

This illustrates why music and film copyright violations and your (partially but obviously conditionally waived)rights to your published articles aren’t comparable.

You describe a moral standard for your line of rights, that does not apply to music and film. When downloaders figure out that they’re “being had” by someone offering music or film they do not have rights to, they don’rt give a shit, and rather tell all their friends about this cool, free service.

No, you are comparing apples to oranges. Offering free copies of music is not the same as plagiarism. Offering free copies of music still increases the attention going to the band that made it, and increases their ticket sales.

The comparison to plagiarism would be if you were offering free copies of the songs, but changing all the information to say you made the song and played it yourself. Sort of like a cover band that lied about being a cover band… I think you would still have somewhat of the same effect in that case.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: You never came across...

It seems that you never came across a really really good site that copies your content and makes profits saying he wrote something that he actually didn’t.

Some of those sites have been quite impressive, but I’m pretty damn confident that anyone who’s simply copying my text without anything else will have a hard time profiting off of it. But if they can profit off of it, so what?

The site gains fame, and nobody realizes that is a copy. How would you feel? Maybe you feel fine, it is possible. But I really dont think nobody can feel ok with this. Maybe you dont sue, but you will try to make people realize that the content is yours, which in some way is saying that is protected by copyright.

Um, saying that it was written by me is NOT the same as saying it was protected by copyright. It’s just acknowledging who created the content, it’s a factual statement, not using a gov’t granted law.

And, yes, if it was made clear that the other site was passing off our work as their own, it would significantly harm their reputation (and probably bring more attention to us). That’s what’s happened in the past when book authors or journalists have been caught plagiarizing. It happens all the time — and they often get fired for it.

I repeat, maybe you don’t care, and what I wrote is usless, but I really think that in my hypothetical, you would worry.

Worry? No. We would almost certainly try to use it to our advantage, though.

It’s true, maybe you don’t intend to profit from our site, but the other is profiting from your articles, your ideas, your way of writing, your time spent writing the article, etc. Thanks

I’m not sure what this means. We do try to profit from “our site.” But that doesn’t mean using copyright.

MC says:

Re: Re: You never came across...

Thanks Mike for responding to my post. I completely understand and respect your comments. It seems that I was wrong and that you don’t care other copy your content.

I just want to claryfy one thing: you say “saying that it was written by me is NOT the same as saying it was protected by copyright. It’s just acknowledging who created the content, it’s a factual statement, not using a gov’t granted law”.

Requesting other sites to say that certain article was writen by you is in some way saying: “hey, I have a right over this”. If you decide not to do anything its ok, but you still feel you have certain right over your post. For me that right is copyright. You can enforce that right or not, but you certaintly have the right of attribution.

Thanks again and all the best.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You never came across...

Requesting other sites to say that certain article was writen by you is in some way saying: “hey, I have a right over this”. If you decide not to do anything its ok, but you still feel you have certain right over your post. For me that right is copyright. You can enforce that right or not, but you certaintly have the right of attribution.

I think you’re missing the point. We don’t claim a right of attribution.

Karl Fogel (profile) says:

Re: You never came across...

There are two unrelated issues here:

Plagiarism is the stealing of *credit*, that is, someone claiming your work is theirs. No one’s advocating that.

Copying is, well, copying. If the copier doesn’t claim the work was done by them, then it’s just copying — and has nothing to do with plagiarism. For example, people who download all those songs off the Internet and share them with friends don’t claim to be *be* the musicians who made those songs. Copying without plagiarism is very common.

Copyright restricts copying. It’s not about crediting at all.

So if you’re worried about plagiarism, you have my sympathy. But it’s not an argument for copyright restrictions.

Anonymous Coward says:

“It seems that you never came across a really really good site that copies your content and makes profits saying he wrote something that he actually didn’t. Suppose somebody copies all your articles, and starts publishing them as if they were writen by this person. The site gains fame, and nobody realizes that is a copy. How would you feel? Maybe you feel fine, it is possible. But I really dont think nobody can feel ok with this. Maybe you dont sue, but you will try to make people realize that the content is yours, which in some way is saying that is protected by copyright.”

letting people know it is yours is in no way copyright copyright is denieing others the right to copy and hold that right to you and the people you aprove.

besides that I don’t think techdirt is that small that any other site could surpass it in growth by just copieing content.

the only real use I see in copyright is in stopping a strong company wich can advertise and spread there content quickly to pushing away smaller companies by taking there products and leading the market before the smaller companie has a chance to

Shaun W says:

Re: Re:

the only real use I see in copyright is in stopping a strong company wich can advertise and spread there content quickly to pushing away smaller companies by taking there products and leading the market before the smaller companie has a chance to

Unfortunately it doesn’t even work in this situation. In this case the big company has more expensive lawyers so they just sue the smaller company back and the smaller company goes bankrupt.

Text Mason says:

wow,

That was excessive. Laying text bricks like that, I’d assume that Mr/Ms. N has a career in building skyscrapers out of offensive text. Here at Techdirt’s VoTec program, we can teach you to hone those skills to create monuments of worthless, repeat pasted swearwords. Please send your identifying information, SSN, and a valid bank account number to enroll, and we’ll set about destroying your life.

Sod off, uber-troll d-bag.

Mark Rosedale (profile) says:

Plus it gets your cause out there

Leaving the sites up also gets your voice heard to more people. Even if they don’t know it is you or don’t ever come to this site at least they have been presented with the ideals embodied here. And that is also a positive outcome. Readers of the fake sites will be informed of all the issues you are so passionate about.

Steven Gasperino says:

Analogies

I just wanted to take a moment to quote one of the responses to a prior post by Mike, in which he responded to Scott Adams’ blog:

It’s entirely different to whittle a chair out of a lump of wood. Thus copying someone elses work. Than to press “copy” on your CD burner. or “Scan” on your scanner.

One requires work and effort, equivilant – if lacking the artisitc flair of the original. The other can be done by a trained monkey. Leaning forward on your fat ass to press “burn” costs less than producing an album.


I won’t even debate the merits for or against that argument. It’s simply irrelevant. The fact is, the tools are out there and being used. It’s true, the industry could ‘cry to mom’ to make the ‘bad men’ go away… or, they can learn how to adapt by focusing on those parts of their business that aren’t copiable (such as commissioned work like Mike’s analysis, or live performances by musicians, things of that nature). This makes it less focused on trying to determine what’s theft and what’s not, and brings it to the point of tech-proofing your business.

Take, for example, the musician analogy that’s put forth here. Sure, you could reproduce tracks to the same identical quality as the original. You could even start trying to produce identical store-bought CDs if you really wanted. But you’ll never be able to copy the artist performing live.

The other risk from behaving the way some businesses have been (like, oh, say… the RIAA, for example), you may end up viewed as the ‘bad guy.’ Consumers are more likely to do business with the ‘good guys,’ who give them what they want, rather than trying to restrict their use of the product as much as possible. Take Magnatune for an example, whose catchphrase is “we’re not evil.” Google conducts themselves the same way. I know that at least in my case, I’d much sooner do business with a company that isn’t going to treat me like the enemy… like a risk that has to be controlled, rather than an opportunity for more business.

Steven Gasperino says:

Re: Analogies

I felt I should clarify: My post was about trying to cut off the ‘analogy warriors’ if that’s even possible.

Didn’t want to seem like I was just randomly responding to something from quite some time ago for no reason–it seems that every time copyright gets discussed, the analogies come out of the woodwork, with people claiming “well, stealing music is the same as if I went and microwaved your cat” or something that (to me) sounds equally kooky.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Analogies

The fact is, the tools are out there and being used. It’s true, the industry could ‘cry to mom’ to make the ‘bad men’ go away.

no they can’t. once something it out on the net you can’t get it back. it’s impossible.

you can’t copy-protect anything effectively, and you can’t police the internet at all. there is no way to stop unauthorized copying.

you can stamp out every website there is and new ones will pop up. if you take yourself too seriously in the process, people will replicate your content just to upset you.

if your stuff is worth reading, hearing, or viewing, it will be shared without your permission. that’s an undeniable certainty.

Steven Gasperino says:

Re: Re: Analogies

RE Chris, #31:

The fact is, the tools are out there and being used. It’s true, the industry could ‘cry to mom’ to make the ‘bad men’ go away.

no they can’t. once something it out on the net you can’t get it back. it’s impossible.

I could have made that point a bit more clearly… the industry can very well complain and try to get legislators to make an attempt at controlling things. It’s just almost guaranteed to be ineffective, while only serving to rub people the wrong way.

if you take yourself too seriously in the process, people will replicate your content just to upset you.

That’s dead-on correct. Take the HD-DVD/Blu-Ray encryption key spectacle, for example. The MPAA went ape trying to have it taken down, and the result was people posting it on their blogs, making T-shirts out of it, and generally having a great time with it.

J Robinson (profile) says:

Using TechDirts Feed

http://www.LibertyNewsprint.com in is a custom feed newspaper powered by Feedjournal.com’s publisher application. Our goal is to produce a digital newspaper that publishes a compelling mix of english language news feeds from all around the world.

Because Techdirt has a full text RSS feed I feature them in the Liberty Newsprint “feed” paper. Of course I give them full credit. Today I was checking my google analytic site and discovered that 43% of the unique visitors to my site visit my featured feed link sites. I remember my first copy of windows was free. Now everyone uses windows. Google search is free now … TechDirt content is free next everyone will be reading their articles.

Mike Linksvayer (user link) says:

So, as for us, we just leave things alone, and figure that most people will figure out sooner or later that they’re free to help promote our content by reusing it however they want.

Anyone who sooner or later figures out your intention will have sooner figured out that they are not free to do as you wish.

(To turn the above into a TechDirt post just find TechDirt stories, perhaps about Innovation Ventures and Stephen Joyce, and link to them to the words “not” and “free”.)

That placing content completely in the public domain is legally difficult or even impossible is a really sorry and lazy excuse for someone who incessantly advocates for free models and against protectionism (both appreciated, keep it up!) to not offer as much freedom as is legally easy to offer.

Note that the two sites that Kinsella (who you quote above) writes about copyright, patents, etc. at, both abolitionist in nature, have not been so cavalier — their content is offered under the Creative Commons Attribution only license.

(I presently work for Creative Commons, but don’t represent them here.)

RomeoSidVicious (profile) says:

Not so revolutionary

This ideal has been around for while. I think TD stands out because of their constant fight against the abuses of IP laws that are prevalent in our system.

From the late Richard Mitchell (All of his works are available freely here: http://www.sourcetext.com/grammarian/)
____________________________________________________________
A little note from the author: Permission to Copy and Plagiarize

Freedom of the Press and License, too

“WE are often asked permission to reprint or duplicate or in some other way to circulate the pieces that appear in The Underground Grammarian. It always seems to us a good idea, and we always grant such permission. In fact, you may take this little notice as prior written permission to do likewise in any fashion that seems good to you. We neither ask nor expect any form of payment, but we would like to be cited as the source. But if admitting that you read this sheet will get you into hot water, we will be the first to understand.

“One reader wrote recently to apologize for plagiarism, since he had woven some of our stuff into a speech he had given and made no attribution. Since then we have also had word of a man who wrote, to the editor of some newspaper, a letter that was, in fact, made entirely of our words. The paper caught him, chastised him, and barred him from their letters column forever. Somehow, we feel that something only sort of like justice has been served here. So now we have to add a new rule. Plagiarism is also permitted. Go ahead. Make our day.”
____________________________________________________________

So expressly granted permission to plagiarize is not new and not crazy. It is obvious that the hypothetical situations presented here are actually not concerning to those who take this route. I have no doubt they have considered all of the issues and are quite cool with them.

Now if I can only find a way to publish a book of techdirt postings and get some crazies to pay me for it…

๐Ÿ˜‰

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Laws Versus Ethics

RE #34 directly above, where you cite another source who is absolutely OK with plagiarism. I don’t think Mike goes quite that far.

Techdirt saying it’s alright to repost, or otherwise use their content is different than saying it’s alright to do so without attribution. Techdirt states that they want attribution, but won’t chase you down for it.

It is different to say: “We prefer attribution” than to say “We demand our right of attribution”. It is acknowledgment that straight plagiarism is unethical, but also unavoidable. Whether or not it should be prohibited by law is a different question.

As a metaphor, it is wrong and unethical to call an ugly person “ugly”. But there should be no law to prevent you from being that kind of jerk. Similarly, claiming credit for Techdirt work is sleazy, but you won’t get any Cease and Desist for doing so.

To say that Mike is using a “sorry and lazy excuse” (comment 33) to not offer an open license misses Mike’s vision entirely. He doesn’t think that ideas should be governed and limited by laws at all, so offering “legal” permission to use his stuff is unnecessary under his ideals. Just use it, he says. No “rights”, no lawsuits, no C & Ds. Mike cannot, and doesn’t try to, give anyone the right to copy music, even if he disagrees with the rights issues around music “ownership”; with music he just argues his vision. But he CAN give anyone his OK to use HIS content, and he can do it in any way he sees fit.

Calling his efforts regarding the ownership of ideas “lazy” is about as terribly wrong a miscalculation as you could possibly make. I would go with “calculated, logical, progressive, and tireless”.

Oh, and these are my personal views only, I can’t speak for Techdirt.

Stephen Pate (user link) says:

Why you let people copy

Some of what you said above makes sense and some is braggadocio. The claim is that people will come back to TechDirt because it’s an information source. In actuality TechDirt scans tons of stories about it’s favourite topics and writes a synopsis and editorial argument that is uniquely TechDirt. Someone else can take your articles and put their own POV on them and they may or may not get readers. You are not creating original content in the main, except your POV. For example, I discovered Bob Lefsetz and the Lefsetz Letter through your coverage. Bob is a music insider so he is a better source for me than your POV on Bob. I subsribe to Bob not you on those topics. No big deal. However, to claim proprietary value beyond that is a little arrogant. And I’m not knocking your site. I like to read it but in many cases you are only interpreting other people. But that’s OK. The information flow is so huge no one has ownership. Cheers.

jen c (profile) says:

Publishers ClearingHouse Sweeps

I don’t know “how” I got here,no, I do know,I saw “why is so difficult to OPT-OUT OF..but why “copyright?” instead of just a Sweepsstake?An annoying,repetitive,pain in e-mail,when I ever WIN anything,they’ll make themselves known by driving up to my home,in their famous[imfamous?] van!
Until then,I am sick of this,so now it takes 10 days,huh?
You do have an interesting site,I must say,it is imaginative & filles w/ Reality,if there’s such a thing,anymore!Remember the envelopes for that,those insulting stamps? Affixed,when the one you need doesn’t exsist?Believe me,it’s happened,& I Hate PCH,I’d give my $$$ to all animal shelters,that’s why people like me never win,because I’d “give” to something one can see,not a donation that goes to a lab,so “they” can get a cure,cures they already have!??MaryTylerMoore is still asking for a cure for diabetes when there’s a Cure And What They Don’t Want You To Know About”Kevin Trudaeu…My point? I get enough emails,too many,PCH?They are a horror!

The Mad Hatter (profile) says:

Oh my...

ROFLMAO!

I missed this one when it was published, just found it now, and it is hilarious. You are right. It is just about impossible to ‘Opt-Out’ of copyright.

But in my opinion copyright isn’t the problem. It is people and organizations who misuse copyright that are the problem, and since the law doesn’t recognize copyright misuse as an issue, it is practically impossible to do anything about those cretins.

Except fight them, one by one, post by post. Thank you for doing this.

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