Intellectual Property

"The issue of copyright is something only a lawyer could love, but it will impact everyone in a major way very quickly ... The problem is defining how the Internet, Internet service providers and users should be viewed. Is the Internet a broadcast or publishing medium?" [CCD_A15]


Copyright is not something that the average 'net user spends too much time thinking about, however, it will become more important with time. When you put an image on your home page that you grabbed from some other site, do you think about whether it might be copyrighted? No, probably not. For the most part, it is not terribly important, however, there have already been cases of normal users being forced to remove images or text from web pages due to copyright restrictions.
Fox Television, owner of the TV series The X-Files, recently presented the owner of an X-Files web page with a court order forcing them to remove copyrighted images from their site. This angered owners of X-Files sites around the globe as it was not a commercial site, but just a fan's X-Files page. The question is now, will prosecution or orders to remove copyright material from web sites become more common, or will it become accepted that some leeway will be given for personal home pages which are not for profit?

Electronic Distribution

Publishing electronically was something rare to unheard of up until very recently. That climate has changed radically since then. "Publish electronically of be damned, visitors to the Frankfurt Book Fair were told..." [ITC_O7].
One of the first books to be given away electronically was Bruce Sterling's Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier. He had the book published in traditional paper form, and he also gave away the text of the book freely over the Internet.
Most people in the publishing trade thought this was crazy; why would people pay to buy the book when they could get the text free on the 'net? Well, they were proven wrong. The book became immensely well known, and two or three years ago, most 'netizens' had either read or heard of the book. Giving away the text of the book was wonderful publicity for Sterling, and in fact, his book sales were very high because of this.
Why? Well, most people prefer to have a real book in their hands to read. Reading from a computer screen, standard text, is nothing like as pleasurable. It strains the eyes, and the typesetting and format of the text is bad. The screen part can be fixed... print it out, but then, how much does printing a several hundred page novel cost you? It costs more than the price of buying the nicely bound, sensibly sized paperback. That is why people bought, and continue to buy, his book despite the text being available on the 'net.
Since Sterling pioneered the idea of giving your book free on the Internet, many authors have followed suit, putting their work on the World Wide Web as well as publishing traditionally.
Electronic publishing currently represents 1 to 3 % of the total current publishing market [ITC_O7]. That is a significant figure considering the huge global publishing market.

Links Between Sites

One of the strangest controversies to hit the Internet recently, in my opinion, is the case of the Shetland Times and the Shetland News. The controversy revolves around a claim by the Shetland Times that the Shetland News is breaching copyright by linking to articles on its site. "...these two publications serving the Shetland Isles ... have been involved in a legal dispute which could have mind-boggling repercussions for copyright on the World Wide Web. The case revolves around the following question: can a link to somebody else's Web page be a copyright infringement of their page?" [ITC_N11]. The court has granted an interim interdict (temporary ban) on links from the Shetland News to the Shetland Times.
The Shetland News often links to articles on the Shetland Times and such international newspapers as the New York Times where its single editorial staff member has not the time to write his own articles. He argues that he is not copying any copyright material, but merely pointing people to their site. The owner of the Shetland Times, Robert Wishart says that, whatever the technical processes involved, he believes it to be a breach of copyright to use their copyright articles as content.
"...this is an argument over whether a publisher retains copyright in any material once it goes online. My view is that by incorporating our copyright material into his news service he infringes our copyright. The technical process by which this is achieved is irrelevant," said Mr. Wishart [ITC_N11]. According to [MIP], "Copyright is infringed only if the work is actually copied, and the copying comprises a substantial part of the whole original work". This would seem to indicate that Mr. Wishart's case is entirely spurious.
The nature of the World Wide Web is that documents link to other documents, and any document can link to any other document, providing a 'web' of links throughout the globe, linking most pages together. The idea that a link could be banned goes against the whole philosophy of the Web. When someone browsing the Shetland News site clicks on a link to an article of the Shetland Times, the browser leaves the Shetland News Site and goes to the Shetland Times site. No information is copied to the Shetland News server, and the user can see that they are no longer on the Shetland News server, but on the Shetland Times server. To rule in favour of the Shetland Times would be injudicious in the extreme. For this to become a precedent for rulings on Internet publishing would be disastrous to the World Wide Web.

Reference: [DTC_O29]

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© Stephen Jacob, 1996. All rights reserved.