But, Honestly, Copyright Protection is as American as Apple Pie, Even on the Internet

By: Donna Ray Berkelhammer. This was posted Sunday, November 7th, 2010

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Last week a blogger discovered her online article on the origins of apple pie in a regional print magazine called Cooks Source. She had not consented to this reprint and emailed the editor for a written apology and a $.10/word donation to the Columbia School of Journalism by way of penalty.

Here is Cooks Source editor Judith Griggs’ astonishing response, according to blogger Monica Gaudio:

Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings [sic] forget to do these things.

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!

In actuality, The U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, grants Congress the power to: Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. Our founding fathers believed the rights of authors and inventors to control the use of their works — and to prosper from their creativeness and inventiveness — is a founding principle of our nation. Copyright and Patent law come directly from the Constitution itself, while our individual rights (such as freedom of speech and the right to bear arms) are found in the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution).

U.S. copyright law protects original works of authorship, including those distributed on the Web, from the moment a work is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” that is “perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device” (i.e., written or recorded). There is no need to register or take any other action (including mailing a copy of your work to yourself) in order to have a copyright. Copyright protects literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, photographs, paintings, songs, choreography, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

Copyright law gives the author an exclusive bundle of rights – the exclusive right to copy, distribute, make derivative works, display and perform the works. Registering a work with the U.S. Copyright office is not required to give the protection, but gives additional rights, such as the right to collect damages if someone infringes the work. Penalties for copyright infringement, such using someone else’s online article or photograph, may include statutory damages of $750 to $30,000 per infringement, impoundment of the infringing works, and payment of the copyright owner’s costs and attorney’s fees.

For works created on January 1, 1978 or after, the copyright lasts the life of the author, plus 70 years. After that, the work is in the “public domain,” and is free to be used without permission. Works written by the US Government are not protected at all, and sometimes authors waive their copyrights and allow their work to be in the public domain.

Current U.S. law holds that the “c-in-a-circle” (©) symbol is not required to indicate that a work is copyrighted. The ©)notice was required prior to April 1, 1989.

It is therefore imperative that before you use any content from the Internet, you ask for permission. Articles, artwork, music and photographs may have copyright protection without having registered or without giving the © notice. To do otherwise is stealing.

Author’s note: Cooks Source has issued an apology, made changes to its submission and usage policy and asked that netizens stop harrassing its advertisers — local small food businesses interested in sustainable agriculture.

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  • Mark’s response makes me think he is an insider with the arrogant editor. They would steal my work and then want a pat on the back (or worse, appreciation) for “improving” it? Hogwash and insult. An illegal act disguised as a service. Shame on them.

    Posted by: Mrs. JD | November 19th, 2010 at 10:59 am
  • Well the law is the law, but as Americans we also are responsible to use temperance, discernment, & good judgment in our application of the “law”. After all, an host of atrocities to our citizens have been wrongfully committed under the umbrella of the judicial & law enforcement system.

    I have no choice but to support the editor Judith in this case, & the underlying message that she is attempting to very decently communicate.

    If Monica wasn’t so pompous & haughty about her evidently lacking article, she maybe could’ve taken some constructive criticism from other writers who volunteered their time & expertise to improve her original perspective & whom she could clearly take some tips & pointers from. Talk about stuck up! And Monica has the arrogance to demand financial compensation? Not very American. Sounds like the suckers & leaches of our society that make a living suing people, under the guise of “upholding the law”.

    It’s a blog, not a literary masterpiece; Please let’s have a little sense.

    Posted by: Mark | November 18th, 2010 at 10:52 pm
  • Worth pursuing just for the come-uppance due the editor.

    Posted by: Brian | November 8th, 2010 at 9:18 am
  • What hubris. What arrogance.

    The only thing that will get the attention of Ms. Griggs is to copyright the article and proceed on statutory damages.

    Astounding that an editor believes that she and her rag have the right to determine what is worth of reading.

    They are nothing less than common thieves.

    Posted by: Lenn Harley | November 7th, 2010 at 4:57 pm

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