Lessons In Copyright Law – There’s Money To Be Made

Say No To SharingI wear many hats.  I’m a dad, a husband, a brother and a son.  When I’m not on Twitter spewing whatever comes to mind, I’ve got a day job at a Fortune 500 company that I love.  I do freelance website development and SEO (search engine optimization) and when I’m not doing all of that or blogging here, I help run a tobacco cessation website called KillTheCan.org which is dedicated to helping people quit chewing tobacco.

I ran across a story this morning that I simply had to share.  There was a recent study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that reported use of smokeless tobacco had stayed steady or increased from 2005 to 2010.  I posted the entire article, with links to the original, and the original copyright, along with my little editorial piece at the top here.  In the original story, they’d used an image that was very misleading.  They had pictured a can of Mint Snuff which is an alternative to smokeless tobacco that contains no nicotine and no tobacco.  I figured I’d point it out to them.  

I filled out the contact form on their site with this message:

Thank you for posting the story about smokeless tobacco use. I own a site dedicated to helping people quit chewing tobacco called KillTheCan.org. I have reposted your story and shared it with my readers. I would like to point out that the image used in your story (LINK REMOVED) is a can of Mint Snuff http://www.killthecan.org/your-quit/reviews/oregon-mint-snuff-review/ This product contains NO NICOTINE and NO TOBACCO. An uneducated eye may look at this image and think it is “bad” based on the story. Just wanted to point it out.

Thanks, Greg

I was thrilled when I checked the story a few hours later and saw that they’d updated their story with a correct image.  With my good deed done for the day I was happy as a pig in shit.  I’d passed along a story to my readers, corrected a wrong and done some good “social sharing” in the process.

And then I got this email…

Hi Greg,
Thanks for pointing out that we used an inappropriate image adjacent to our article on smokeless tobacco use. We are in the process of re-issuing the story with a different image.

I need to point out to you that each of COMPANY’s news stories have a copyright notice on the bottom. We are in the business of licensing our news articles to hospitals, managed care organizations, government web sites, web portals, pharmacies, and also to bloggers that want to post our news on their web sites and in their newsletters.

I don’t believe you have a license to post our news on your web site which means you have violated our copyright. I need to ask you to delete the COMPANY news story from your web site immediately. It’s not fair to all our other customers that pay for the right to post our copyrighted news on their web sites.

Please reply to this email and let me know that you will be deleting the copyrighted news story from COMPANY from your web site.

Thanks in advance for your cooperation,

GUY
President & CEO
Company

The New Thank You

This sort of irked me, but I figured maybe this was a canned response.  After all, if he’d taken even 2 seconds to read the article I posted, he’d realize that I wasn’t in fact trying to “steal his Internets” (thanks Josh / @WadoobiePtC) and take credit for his writing.  In fact, I linked to his article TWICE (as opposed to the original).

Here was my response:

Hi GUY/ thanks for swapping out the image. Great work.

My link to your article contains the full article, full attribution, links to the original as well as the full COMPANY copyright thus not violating the copyright as I understand it.

Thanks,
Greg

To follow up – If my citation is not acceptable I’m happy to update / remove along with your request.

Thanks again.

At this point I was truly hoping this was behind me, though in my heart of hearts I knew it wasn’t.

Sadly, I got another response:

Fuck You Very MuchHi Greg,

No disrespect intended here but your understanding of the copyright law is flawed. You have posted our entire copyrighted article on your web site without having a news licensing agreement with us. Just because you attribute the article to COMPANY and link to the original article doesn’t give you the right to post the article on your web site. We pay our reporters and editors to create the industry’s most respected health news service. We earn our money by licensing our news to hundreds of outlets. Our customers pay an annual licensing fee to use our news.

If everyone viewed copyright laws as you do, nobody would pay us, or Reuters, or the Associated Press for their content if all bloggers and publishers had to do was attribute the source and link to the original article.

Our legal counsel tells us that “Fair Use” of content would allow companies to post the first sentence or two of a news article on their web site and then link to the original article wherever it originated. Of course attribution should be included as well. But you can’t copy entire paragraphs of another’s work just because it was properly attributed. And you are using more than a few sentences, more than a few paragraphs, you’re using the entire article.

As a publisher you should have access to legal advice and I suggest you discuss copyright law with an expert to find out if your assumptions are correct.

Since I already checked with my legal counsel and believe quite strongly that I am correct, I am asking you once again to take down the copyrighted COMPANY article from your web site.

Thank you

At this point, I’m REALLY fired up.  Yes… I understand where he’s coming from.  He’s got every right to his copyright.  And as I said in my original note, I’m happy to comply and remove his content.  No issue.  I guess I just sort of hoped that there were some other folks out there in the world that were into “paying it forward”.  After all, it’s not like his article was breaking new ground to begin with… he was summarizing someone ELSE’S work!  If anything, I was giving him props (links, mentions, etc.) that he really didn’t deserve.  I should have been linking directly to the source.  I sent the following note which is my 2nd or 3rd draft.  I’ve learned to not send the first draft as it tends to be a bit “harsh”.

The “final” reply:

No Good DeedNo disrespect taken GUY.  The article has been removed as have the links to COMPANY.  Rest assured I will never again link to your site.

www.killthecan.org/no-drop-in-smokeless-tobacco-use-among-u-s-workers-cdc

I’m familiar with Fair Use and Copyright law. You’re certainly well within your rights to ask for the contents removal and I’m happy to do so.  That said, I’m also aware that it’s up to you whether or not you enforce said copyright.  I intended no malice, gave 100% attribution and linked multiple times to the source.  What I should have done (and have now done) is linked to the original source (which your article does not).

My two cents… when an organization such as KillTheCan.org which clearly has no agenda other than to pass along great work that you are turning out, links to you or cites you as a source it may not be the best course of action to go after them.  Especially in an instance where someone pointed out an inaccuracy in your content to begin with (the original image of Mint Snuff which is a non-tobacco, non-nicotine product).

And while I completely understand you’re protecting your business, there is social, SEO and just plain “being nice” value in doing things the right way.

Keep up the tremendous work at COMPANY – you are providing an invaluable resource.

At this point, I’ve not received a follow up note from GUY.  I spose I’m really making more of this than it is.  Oh well, at least I’ve learned my lesson for the day: Don’t share anything that’s been copy written.  After all, there’s good money to be made on it, and if you’re not the one making the money then you’re not allowed to talk about it.

PS: I didn’t create the images used in this post. I found every one of them on the Googles by doing an image search.  If one of these images is yours please send me an email and I’ll give you full credit.  Naturally, I’ll need for you to provide proof that it is in fact your work and you haven’t ripped it off from someone else on the web.  After all, if there’s a penny to be made, I’m sure you’re going to try and collect it.

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One Comment

  1. Maybe while GUY has been busy reading up on fair use, he should have been reading up on social and viral marketing. The added exposure and traffic to said articles increases the value of their work, thus allowing them to charge more for licensing the content. Perhaps if he ran COMPANY like a true nonprofit and less like a greedy corporate pig, he’d have greater success and less time to go after the hard-working people that are trying to spread the good gospel.

    And for the record, charging a licensing content fee is no different than allowing ads to run on your site. So if you truly feel like responding, just use my grandpa’s favorite saying: “A wolf in sheep’s clothing is still a wolf.”

    Best of luck!

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