Thursday, November 30, 2006

Copyright

I did not delete the post below because I was in violation of some copyright law. Whether you want to debate my ethics about posting it or not is your business, but I was fully within my legal rights to do so. However, this blog is meant to be informative and amusing, not make people angry. Unless those people are stupid.

There are two main reasons why I had every right to post material handed out in a classroom:

(1) I was handed a piece of paper with some writing on it. It was no different (in legal terms) from finding a piece of paper on the street with some terrible writing on it, which I don't think anyone here would have objected to. I think I fulfilled my moral obligations by not naming the professor OR the student. I also did not post the story in full. Whether a writer holds copyright on their work from the first word they type is irrelevant. The only way this would come up in court would be if I were to publish it and attempt to make money off of it by claiming it was mine or claiming it was someone else's and not giving any procedes to the author. Even then, the author, who in this case we are assuming is lacking a form from the US copyright office, would have to prove that they wrote the work first and I stole it. This is actually fairly difficult to do in a courtroom. If there was NO monetary gain at stake (i.e. I had not tried to sell the work), the case would simply not go to trial because there are no losses. It might go to civil court for emotional damage, but only if the original author had good grounds for it. (If I posted her work and her name on a billboard at Times Square, for example)

(2) Basically everything written on the internet falls into the "fair use" category, as the California Supreme Court recently ruled. (And it's irrelevant, because you could easily make a post on a server that was based in another country if you really wanted to) I give the example of Something Awful, which people have attempted to sue many times for "libel and slander." None of these cases have ever gone to court, and the threatening emails to the site administrator were even posted in whole, without alteration or permission.

Freedom of speech on the internet is a two-way street, people. I'm very aware of that; material I've written on this blog or in email as The Rejecter has been reposted on other websites without my permission, and the material has been altered without my permission, and I can't do a thing about it. Most people back down from an email threat from someone else to sue pretty quickly, but they actually don't have to.

As for the other complaint, which is that I keep a folder of the worst query letters I've received for my own personal amusement, it is totally legal and I've never viewed it as immoral. When you send a letter to someone through the postal service, the letter becomes their property. They can do whatever they like with it. They can make paper airplanes out of it, they can refuse the back of the paper as scrap, they can toss it in the trash (which is what happens to most query letters that aren't sent back). Now if I attempted to make some kind of a profit by reprinting the letters on a pay site or in book form, I might run into some legal trouble with the authors if I didn't bother to change or remove their names, but I would never do that for both legal and moral reasons. I don't keep the query letters so to mock the author. (I often don't even look at the author's name when reading a query letter, except to check that it's the same name on the SASE so nothing gets screwed up in the mail) The only illegal thing that ever happens in the agency is the act of opening the envelope. (It is a crime to open an envelope sent through the US Postal Service that is not addressed to you, and the letters are always addressed to my boss, not me) Once the envelope is opened, the paper and whatever's written on it is fair game.

So there.

38 comments:

roach said...

Whether a writer holds copyright on their work from the first word they type is debatable and irrelevant.

Uhm, no it isn't debatable, at least in the U.S. The U.S. Copyright Office is pretty clear on this:

"When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device."

This isn't the sort of issue that I think anyone working in publishing should be getting wrong.

kis said...

Uh-oh. I think you just typed your way into a whole whack of trouble with the good old U.S. Postal Service, missy. I think you need to have a chat with your boss about the importance of her opening her own envelopes, or you might both end up in jail. teehee

Um, anyway, I don't think what you did was so bad. The author of that bit wrote it to be critiqued. Maybe not by us, but at least we as readers of books could have given her some real insight into what was wrong (so very wrong) with it. Hurt feelings would be the only damage done (if she saw the post), and as we all know, hurt feelings can lead to self-growth, even, dare I say, improvement.

Your professor isn't helping the poor woman who wrote that drivel. Even writers who aren't in it for the money are in it for recognition or immortality or something more than just having their work validated by .00005% of the population. If she keeps writing to please her prof, that's all she's gonna get.

Of course, there is the possibility that she knows exactly how bad it is, and wrote it that way to humor the prof and get a decent mark. For her sake, and the sake of any career she might one day hope to have, part of me really, really wants to believe that's true.

The Rejecter said...

Roach,

I'm very aware of that, but what the laws says and what will hold up in court (in terms of suing me for posting work that's not mine) is very different.

ello said...

So I've been away all day after having to go to the emergency room for my bleeding eyes after reading the earlier red meat/steak/bloody uterus posting. I come back and see 99 comments?! Wow! NEeding no further reason to procrastinate, I read all through them and start laughing.

What a controversy over a fairly inconsequential posting. Rejecter is right, it would be next to impossible (or at least not worthwhile) for the author to sue Rejecter for her posting. She is protected under Fair Use as criticism and assuming that she used a small percentage of the work in hand, I don't see a legal problem here. As an IP attorney, had I been consulted, I would have advised against it, but that is because I'm very cautious by nature. But given the anonymity of the whole proceeding, I further think she has protected herself and the author who would be hard pressed to argue libel given that no one knows who she is. There are lots of arguments that could be made here, but I don't believe there is a legal case against the Rejecter here. Whether or not she should have posted it is an entirely different issue. I know that I wouldn't want my work posted anonymously and mocked, but I enjoy reading posts of other peoples stuff and mocking it (at least to myself). Makes me feel a whole lot better about my own writing, you know.

Do I think it is unethical to post a fellow student's work? I don't know. And as much as I secretly enjoy that the Rejecter posted it, I know that I wouldn't have done it myself.

Rejecter I know why you did it. It is truly revolting to know that you are a better writer but crap like this is praised in an MFA program. It's pretentious and ridiculous and I am absolutely with you in my incredulity that a professor would praise it. But if I were you, I'd stay away from posting unless you have permission. From a legal perspective, all you need is one crazy author (who has money to burn) who decides to take a legal vendetta against you and even if they don't have a case to stand on, they would cost you a pretty bundle defending an essentially frivilous lawsuit. Nobody needs that.

The Rejecter said...

See? I learn by doing. It's the best (or arguably worst) way to learn.

Anonymous said...

Think of it like this -- a lot of actions have unintended and unanticipated concequences. Imagine you move on from this job and are looking for a new job. Your potential employer thinks, as they all do, that whatever comes through that door belongs to the business, not the underlings. Confidentiality and ethics are a hugely big deal to them. They don't like surprises and they're very diligent so they read your whole blog. They see you like to take things home and think you have a right to do so. You don't get called back for the second interview. You wonder why...

The Rejecter said...

Actually, I always ask permission, and they always say yes.

Anonymous said...

Basically everything written on the internet falls into the "fair use" category

I believe this would only apply if your classmate had published/posted this story on a website and you reproduced it in your blog.

Yes, the likelihood that you could be successfully sued on this is almost nil. But it's not legal and I don't think it's ethical either.

Anonymous said...
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Dave said...

I once threw out five large file cabinets full of xerox copies of (fairly obscure) scientific articles that I worked with for twelve years because a boob of a boss didn't understand fair use. I never gave him information after that. I always sent him to the library.
Also, slander and libel are legal terms and as such vary from state to state and have specific definitions and case law.
I'm on Miss Rejector's side in everything she did.

The Rejecter said...

Thanks, Dave. I really have no idea why I have a ton of anonymous people yelling at me after I conceeded and took down a post that was perfectly legal anyway.

LadyBronco said...

Ms. Rejecter;
To be blunt ~ People will go out of their way to bitch about something because they have nothing better to do other than try nad make others as miserable as they are.
And to post anonymously is just the coward's way out.
What a chickens*!t

Anonymous said...
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Kim said...

Ms Rejector,

Someone will always find something to complain about. Try not to let them get you down - especially the ones who don't have conviction enough to sign their name to their rant. I still don't know if anyone would have complained about ethics, or morals, had everyone fallen in love with the bit.

Get a drink and call it a day.

There's always tomorrow ;)

ello said...

Honestly, those 3 annonymeeces are why I would never have the tolerance to post a blog like this. Rejecter, you can take this all as compliments to the success of your site. Nobody bitches at failures. And to the anonymous posters, enough already!!!! I like this site and don't want to see Rejecter get to annoyed and frustrated to continue.

They bitch at you for putting it up they still bitch at you after you've taken it off. No win situation. Your forebearance is great. You go girl. This is your blog. You do what you want, and if you ever get a niggle of concern, there are plenty of good legal nutshell internet sites where you can brush up just on what you can and can't do. (WHich I think you already know about!)

Anonymous said...
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The Rejecter said...

I don't post the query letters online, as I said before. I don't post them anywhere. Honestly, this is New York City, so they would have more of a chance of being grabbed and read if they WERE in the trash.

Anonymous said...

Damn I missed the whole thing, but really, any interpretation of copyright (and I don't agree about the Internet thing but I DO agree it's debatable) would let you quote a PART of a work!

Meiran said...

I'll give you that if that was my work, I wouldn't want to see it up on this site.

BUT, I'll also say that I'm guilty of passing around particularly bad paragraphs and typing examples to friends of works in classes and workshops that I've been in.

I don't think this could be called "morally suspect" but if others do, that's for them to decide. You took the high road and took the piece down.

It's time for them to grow up and accept the apology, and their share of the blame.

But then, this is the internet. That never happens.

Anonymous said...

I post anonymously because I don't have a blog.

I voice my objections not to criticize the Rejecter, but because I believe I have a valid point, and I believe that she wants to hear what her readers have to say--a great quality.

I am not yelling at you, Rejecter. I am merely stating, in a calm tone, that I still think what you did was not ethically sound, even if you "took down a post that was perfectly legal."

It's fine if you disagree. Maybe I'm wrong. But I think if you asked your friends in your class what they thought, they'd be on my side.

Bill Thompson said...

Fairness is the key question in this discussion.

Copyright "fair use"? Yes, what Rejecter originally posted was clearly "fair use" (as I understand the law after 33 years in the news media).

Was it fair to post someone else's work on this blog without their permission? Probably not, but was it a despicable act deserving of the morally-superior attacks some have posted here? I don't think so.

Is it fair to keep a file of query letters? Depends on what you plan to do with them. When I was in management years ago, I kept a file of bad resumes - to use, with all identifying information redacted, as a teaching tool to neophytes hoping to learn from others' mistakes.

Fairness is in the beholder's eye.

Anonymous said...
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Ian said...
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Anonymous said...
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The Rejecter said...

Generally I let people talk and raise arguments against what I say, but since it's clearly been reduced to personal attacks and name-calling, I'm going to start deleting posts that do that.

Anonymous said...

To everyone who's bashing anonymous posters...are you including The Rejecter? LadyBronco...do we really know who you are? Just a fan of a team that got spanked on Thanksgiving--Go Chiefs! Sorry, had to rub it in :)

I don't have a blog either, but my name's Laura. Now do you really know who I am? It's rather silly to call people cowards just because they're anonymous. There are a lot of unsavory people trolling the web and I'm iffy about how all the internet stuff works so I post anonymously because I want to and I can. The Rejecter can disable that option if she prefers, no?

I believe the Rejecter has more of a responsibility to identify herself since she dispenses tidbits about publishing and her company that readers have a reasonable expectation of being representative of the industry. She's hit and miss with the accuracy of her info, as evidenced by the errors she posted regarding kid lit. If I didn't already have an agent, I'd want to avoid whomever employs her because she sees nothing wrong with publicly belittling other people's efforts. We all gotta start somewhere. Rejecter, would your classmate appreciate yours and posters' jabs, or do you not care? Like the bumper sticker says...Mean People Suck. Want to post your work so we can all take a crack at you?
If you did, I'd be honest, not mean. There is a difference. I suspect you'll learn that eventually. I know that sounds snotty, but I really mean it to be helpful.

That's my .02 cents. Thanks for reading! And thanks for the blog. I don't always agree with you, but I do enjoy it.

LadyBronco said...
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Anonymous said...
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LadyBronco said...
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The Rejecter said...
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The Rejecter said...

I'm closing this thread or I'm gonna burn out. Any future comments will be deleted.

a certain sinclair said...
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a certain sinclair said...
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Yahzi said...
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The Rejecter said...

Thank you, Yatzi. Now, everyone stop posting. If you want to say something to me about this thread, email me.

festusmonroe said...
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Anonymous said...

You have ads on your website and are therefore making money--not necessarily directly from that writing, but it could be argued in a court of law. So, the author of the content you used without permission, would have a legal right to make you pay. However, if you did not have ads on your website, you might be forgiven, though it is a copyright infringement. I would recommend deleting all the people's comments that quote the originally posted work. That too can get you into trouble. It seems like an honest mistake. Just be cautious.

Anonymous said...

From: http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-infringement.html

To DISPLAY the copyrighted work publicly.


What Is Infringement?

Copyright is a bundle of exclusive rights. Section 106 of the copyright law provides the owner of copyright in a work the exclusive right:

* To reproduce the work in copies;
* To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
* To distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
* To perform the work publicly;
* To display the copyrighted work publicly
* In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

Section 501 of the copyright law states that “anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner ...is an infringer of the copyright or right of the author.”