Bob Minnick spent 300 hours creating and refining Beginner's
Central, a series of how-to Web pages for cyberspace newcomers. Then one day he discovered
entire portions of his work running in a new online magazine without any attribution.
"I started reading and said, 'Wait. This is what I did,'" recalls Minnick.
"I went from shock to outrage." Unsure about what to do next, Minnick posted a
question on http://infolawalert.com, a Web page
hosted by Information Law Alert's Mark Voorhees, asking: "Is my home page protected
under copyright law?"
You bet it is. All original work, whether or not it bears the copyright
symbol or some other explicit statement of ownership, is protected by copyright law. That
means you can't use somebody else's work as you own or distribute it without permission
from the author or owner of the copyright (often the publisher). "Cyberspace feels
like such a public place that people assume everything is free," says attorney Rose.
"It's one of the biggest myths about the online world."
Certain limited uses are allowed under the "fair use" provision
of the U.S. copyright law. For example: If you're copying only a small portion of a
document (say, one or two paragraphs of an article) and citing the original source, then
you're okay. It's also considered legally acceptable to copy a document you find online to
your hard drive for personal use. But when you post that file you a mailing list or
on a public forum or companywide, or when you modify HTML files and then call the
documents your own, you've just infringed on someone's copyright.
Minnick discovered, for example, that the offending e-zine publisher had
taken his files from a Usenet posting, which hadn't credited the original source. "I
tried to track it down, but by that time the original message had expired and the
publisher had not bothered to keep the original copy," says Minnick. Fortunately,
once the publisher was notified of the problem, he quickly issued an apology and withdrew
the issue from circulation.
With the help of powerful search engines like Alta Vista and Infoseek,
large publishers are hunting down unauthorized uses of their material. Last April, for
example, Washington University instructor Lorrie Cranor received a "cease and
desist" letter from an attorney for the Washington Post. Her offense? Three
years ago Cranor posted a Post article on a Web page that served as a reference for
her students. The page includes hundreds of articles and pointers to other locations.
Although Cranor is covered under the fair use provision of copyright law (which allows for
such educational use), she decided not to fight. "We didn't want to become a test
case. The article wasn't that great anyway," says Cranor.
Moral: You create it-you own it. They create
it-they own it. Current copyright laws apply online as well.
I created all of the pages and images you see here. I did not steal images, text, or
any ideas from any other site. Don't write to me asking if you can use my
material. The answer is no. However, if you would like to use a paragraph or less of
any of the text on these pages, you may do so provided that you state that the text comes
from Gilpo and also maintain an active link to http://www.gilpo.com. Isn't this a lot better than getting sued?
I don't mean to sound like a jerk, it's just that I've put a lot of
work into this site and I don't want it taken from me. It's called
stealing. Don't do it!