Copyright vs. fair use in our digital age is an enormous issue, perhaps even conundrum, and one which is, unfortunately, rarely even considered in our fast-paced sharing culture online.
The issue is as old as Gutenberg’s press, of course, as the words and works (later photos & moving pictures) gained mass circulation. Now at hyper-speed in our digital age, the idea of intellectual property rights is far too often simply roadkill on the information superhighway.
But it’s an important issue and one marketeers need to always place in the process of thinking through online promotion for fun and profit.
Almost completely overlooked within the last two weeks was a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court (actually a non-decision) to let stand a lower court ruling which held Google can, without fear of copyright infringement, continue to scan books and place online at least portions of those books for all to read.
The Author’s Guild, a venerable organization developed to promote and protect the works of writers, sued Google to stop its Google Books Library Project. The Guild lost its case in trial court, appealed the decision, lost again at the appellate level and appealed to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case and on April 18 announced it will let stand the appellate court decision.
The Google Books Library Project can continue to scan the great works of authors.
Specifically it means scanning a book – or any printed work – and placing it online for all to find and read, free of charge, is perfectly legal in the U.S.
With one-half our Relevanza ownership being a former journalist it’s an issue always front and center with our efforts. We are very sensitive about the use of others’ words or photos or videos.
Sure, we use the words and images others have posted if they are appropriate or, even, beneficial but never without proper attribution when required and never without permission when required. To be honest, it’s a rule we often see others walk directly through. Far too often, proper attribution or credit doesn’t even come up in the conversation.
- the purpose and character of your use
- the nature of the copyrighted work
- the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market.
In the digital age hyperlinks have replaced footnotes and are simple to employ (and far more efficient and beneficial for the artist, writer or creator).
Fortunately in this digital age, plenty of resources exist for free or fair use of images, particularly. Start your search with Creative Commons and go from there. (Featured image on this post, BTW, rendered through Pixabay. A great resource!)
And memes? Whoa, that’s a whole other story!
For writers, musicians and other artists the whole question of fair use becomes even more complicated. Never before have artists had such an amazing opportunity for the public to read, see or hear their work. Traditional gatekeepers of the creative process – publishers, record companies, art galleries – don’t have quite the control over creative work as they once did. That’s exciting for any artist. Above all, artists want work to be seen, read or heard and appreciated by as many people as possible.
But artists also want to be able to make a living and making a living from their creative endeavors is always the dream of any artist.
The digital recording and distribution of music as completely changed the music industry and today we see so many musicians choosing to become their own record label, in essence, and why not?
Writers and fine artists as well can become their own publishers and art galleries.
Sure it’s a lot of work and takes time and patience but as any successful artist will acknowledge the business side of the creative life has always been of (almost) equal importance as the creative side. And, sure, artists have to learn to use new tools but learning some new is an essential part of the creative process.
The bottom line for marketeers is to acknowledge the simple (and seemingly obvious) fact that just become we’ve seen something online, accessible to everyone with a digital device, doesn’t mean it’s fair game for use. Someone created those words or that image or that video. By the simple act of creation it belongs to, is the property of, its creator.
A very good, long-stand rule of editing should continue to apply to the digital age: “when in doubt, strike it out.”