Electronic Newsletters

Subject: Electronic Newsletters
From: Jim Taylor <j -dot- taylor5 -at- GENIE -dot- GEIS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 12 Aug 1993 12:52:00 BST

I'm playing go-between again. Here is another response from the GEnie
Digital Publishing Roundtable to the questions about copyright for
electronic documents.

The roundtable is a place where technical writers who specialize in
electronic doucuments. Several newsletters are posted in the roundtable

Jim Taylor
j -dot- taylor -at- genie -dot- geis -dot- com

Digital Publishing RoundTable
Category 21, Topic 5
Message 5 Wed Aug 11, 1993
MWHITE [Cowboy] at 20:52 EDT

Jim / Faith:

First, I believe Ed is quite correct, but I want to expand somewhat -- with
the understanding that I'm not a lawyer either.

I've seen this copyright discussion before... somewhere. The issue is not
copyright, but proof of copyright. Whatever anyone writes no matter where
they write it, they hold copyright. To prove copyright, registration of the
writing offers some protection from future claims, assuming you have the
monetary and legal resources to fight for the prior claim.

>> First, as soon as something is posted to a newsgroup, the copyright
>> falls into question. I don't think the poster necessarily loses the
>> copyright, but claiming rights would be problematic at best.

"Claiming Rights" -- Thar's the crux of the matter. The copyright doesn't
really fall into question. It exists hard and fast... until someone comes
along to challenge it by saying "I wrote that first!" If the writing is not
registered with the copyright office, the claims are very hard to prove and
might be lost to a subversive challenger.

>Mike Showalter replies:
>Copyrights are not lost merely by means of a distribution method. If I'm
>the publisher of a newspaper, and I distribute it for free by leaving them
>in boxes on street corners, I still retain the copyright. Same goes for
>posting to a newsgroup or mailing list.

Per what I said above, I have to agree with Mike Showalter. The downside is
failing to register the writing. I could pull Mike's newspaper out of a box
and register it with the copyright office. He might be out of luck if he
hadn't registered his writings first and I had more money to defend my own
copyright registration of his work. Economic forces are at play, too.

> I like that theory. What I've heard, though, is that it's hard to
> prove copyright, etc. of anything that's not printed on paper.

IMO, value is often overlooked in these types of discussions. What value
a newsgroup posting have? What value does your bulletin board post have in
the scheme of things? Even if you stamp every BB message with (c) does that
mean you should register it? And if I choose to rip off Mike's newspaper,
some of his news has time value that depreciates quite quickly.

IMO, spirit is also overlooked. We offer our writings in these venues
considering copyright. Although we surely have the right to register every
online posting we make, the truth is that we offer these writings in the
spirit of cooperation.

The application of copyright law seems to recognize copyright "value" when a
million dollars of lawyer fees are part of the proceedings. The application
of "spirit" to the law is another weak spot subject to good judgement. How
does the law judge intent or spirit? It takes a lot of money to extract
kind of decision from the courts.

> I don't know whether that means if you have it on paper *and* electronic
> form, you're ok. The sense I get from the trade rags is they haven't
> quite figured out what to do with all this electronic material yet in
> terms of copyrights, privacy rights, and a whole bunch of other legal

Your rights are firm regardless of whether your creations exist on paper or
electronic form. Remember that movies, CDs, and tapes are not on paper. The
minute you distribute creations, you are vulnerable if your claim is not
registered with the copyright office.

> Any comm law types out there? Mike, do you fall into that category?

Common law affects me, I guess, but I'm nobody's lawyer. Now that I think
about it, playing a lawyer could be lotsa fun, but I wouldn't want anyone to
be misguided by the misguided. <g>


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