Have you ever had someone steal your idea and use it in your stead?
Have you ever written something only to find it wholly copied, pasted, and published — without your consent — on another site you do not own?
How do you fight the theft of ideas and content? Do you address every abuse? Or do you pick your battles?
Another sticky matter is — “Fair Use” — and its ramifications for the original Copyright holder and the person trying to transform, or just use, the original text in a reshaped context.
The Center for Media Literacy tries to give some guidelines for the meaning of, and the employment of, the doctrine of Fair Use:
Fair use is the right to use copyrighted material without permission or
payment under some circumstances–especially when the cultural or social
benefits of the use are predominant. It is a general right that applies
even in situations where the law provides no specific authorization for
the use in question–as it does for certain narrowly defined classroom
Fair use is flexible; it is not unreliable. In fact, for any
particular field of critical or creative activity, lawyers and judges
consider expectations and practice in assessing what is “fair” within
that field. In weighing the balance at the heart of fair use analysis,
judges refer to four types of considerations mentioned in the law: the
nature of the use, the nature of the work used, the extent of the use,
and its economic effect (the so-called “four factors”). This still
leaves much room for interpretation, especially since the law is clear
that these are not the only permissible considerations. So how have
judges interpreted fair use? In reviewing the history of fair use
litigation, we find that judges return again and again to two key
• Did the unlicensed use “transform” the material taken from the
copyrighted work by using it for a different purpose than that of the
original, or did it just repeat the work for the same intent and value
as the original?
• Was the material taken appropriate in kind and amount, considering the nature of the copyrighted work and of the use?
If the answers to these two questions are “yes,” a court is likely
to find a use fair. Because that is true, such a use is unlikely to be
challenged in the first place.
I get Fair Use inquiries all the time — usually from students that have copied and pasted the entire context of my articles and then been rightfully accused of plagiarism by their schools. They do not understand how their behavior infringed on my rights.
I was fascinated by JK Rowling’s successful attempt to claim a Fair Use infringement against a Harry Potter Lexicon book. Rowling won in court by claiming the Lexicon book only copied her work without transforming it with analysis or scholarly insight.
How do you deal with requests to use your writing? Do you invoke your absolute right to your Copyright? Or do you encourage the free — but fair — use of your work as long as you are acknowledged as the author of original record and no money is made off the secondary publication?