Why do I have two inconsistent positions about copyright?

Just lately I’ve been dealing with a content aggregation site (or two) that had articles from this blog listed in their articles directory. Worse still is that the site is designed to distribute articles to other sites. I don’t mind the idea: if a writer wants wider distribution, then it probably makes sense to syndicate the article there, than have it sit in obscurity.

I had to fight fairly hard to get my articles out of their system because I had not put them in that system and didn’t want the articles syndicated wildly. Now I do have some syndication organized (if you’re reading this on Toolfarm, thanks) but I don’t want this content distributed anywhere I haven’t directly authorized.

The articles were removed but only after I re-served the DMCA takedown notice on the owner of the domain name, as the normal site admins were not acting in according with the provisions of a DMCA Takedown notice. (I actually thought I’d have trouble when I realized, from the domain registration, that the company was actually in Israel, which isn’t actually covered by US Copyright law! Fortunately they did the right thing.)

We were talking about this over dinner and I realized I had a double standard going on. Not necessarily a bad thing but any internal inconsistency is alway s worth examining.

I was remarking that I am fairly certain there’s at least one school or college that’s using my HD Survival Handbook as a class text, which is not exactly being used in accordance with a single-user license that is the normal purchase. (BTW, we’re always happy to do very attractive bulk pricing for anyone that wants to reuse in a school or commercial organization, as we did recently.) But the thing is I wasn’t particularly upset by it. Sure, I would prefer that they made an arrangement with us for official distribution, but the thing is, I didn’t have any proof that they were doing something wrong. There may be a way that just the teach uses the work as a reference.

If I had actual proof put in my face – such as a student saying that the HD Survival Handbook was actually on a student-accessible server at her college – I would have to act. (In that case I sent a nice email to the original purchaser at that college stating what the student had said and he immediately made it right.) When I say “have to act” I actually mean it. Should an author not act on flagrant breach of the licensing conditions, there are circumstances where the author can lose the copyright exclusivity.

So I was struck with my apparent double standard. I am less worried about meticulously keeping the commercial writings only to those who purchased, than I am about these thoughts being widespread.  Partly that was because the instance with the aggregation site did not have link-backs to this site – the uploader had substituted links to their site, and the content was misused – wrong tags and confusing descriptions. My name even appeared on an article I didn’t write! But it’s also because a lot of what I write here are the beginnings of my thinking about something, or they’re going to be (or have come from) commercial writings.

Mostly, I think, it’s because the commercial products were written to be distributed widely. Plus, if there is a whole class or two that are using my work as their textbook, I’m still being compensated with reputation building. I’m not unhappy with the thought that a whole generation of student will grow up thinking that I provide accurate, understandable and useful information. I figure that will lead to some compensation some day. The portion that does pay for the downloads, and I like to think that’s the majority, make the project well and truly worthwhile, and frankly, I don’t think those students would have paid anyway! Whatever money a student has should be kept for the truly important things… 😉

Here though, I’m writing as much to clear my thinking or have a record of something I’m fired-up about as anything. I don’t have advertising on the site and don’t expect it will be a commercial return. I do hope that it’s reputation building, and when you reproduce this work without authorization, you’re taking my reputation and using it for your own purposes. And I don’t like that.


What I consider highly appropriate is to make reference to a post, summarize the main points – perhaps quote a paragraph or two – and then link to the permalink for the article here. (Click on the article headline and the URL will be the permanent link.) That type of use is a compliment.