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Copyright and linking

I don't know if this post is really really obvious or not at all obvious.  Maybe not at all obvious, from the sheer quantity of copyrighted images, music, books and video flying around the web in places where the copyright owner has not authorised them to be.

I'm leaving entirely aside the issue of the morality of, say, ripping film off DVD and putting it on Youtube, or using a pirated copy of your music as a background for your own home movie. I'm not  arguing that one: we are in a position where the law is running behind the technology and this inevitably creates odd and irritating situations.

But, there seem to be people who unless I am missing something, do not realise that by doing this they are running a risk and potentially exposing their families to risk too.

For example, this guy : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-13788440.  He's a student who does commercial web design.  You'd think he would have had some idea that making money from a website with links to illegal content might possibly put his small business at risk and expose him to timeconsuming legal problems -  but I bet he didn't expect to be facing extradition.  (I believe the latest on this, by the way, is that he will not be extradited but tried in the UK though I've only heard that from Twitter so it could be wrong.)

But that's not the point.  If he had expected to face trial anywhere, even in the UK, even if he was likely to be eventually found not guilty - would he really have set the thing up?  Did he fully understand the issues around copyright and decide to make a principled stand for more freely distributed information and entertainment?  Or, more likely, did he not have the first idea of the potential risks and legal issues that he was exposing himself to?

I know that illegal content is everywhere, and this poor lad has obviously been picked out to make an example of.  But how many people who put up links on their blog or in an online community really understand that their online presence IS being tracked, by their ISP if by nobody else, and that if the police do come a-calling, the ISP will hand over all records? 

Do they understand that what they are doing could expose them to considerable legal hassle, even if they are eventually found innocent, and the only thing that is protecting them is that nobody has yet decided they'd make a good example?  Do they realise that if the internet connection is not in their name, the person whose name is on it could be the one to get it in the neck?  Do they even realise that other people might be reading their email? I suspect not.

All I can say is, when creating content for the web, if all of that content is not 100% yours and you think the copyright owner might not approve -  think hard and long about whether this is stuff you would happily go to court to defend, and before that, potentially lose internet access for an extended period and have other limits put on your computer use, even if you eventually were found innocent.

   It's not just students either.  I have many times had to explain to business owners that no, we can't just take copies of photos off other people's websites and use them on their commercial website, and that doing this is a risk.

I suspect most people reading this already know all this very well, and the hordes of people that don't, won't read this post. Hey ho.

EDIT : I'm not saying, don't link anything, or that technically-illegal stuff is morally wrong.   I'm saying: copyright law is messy, complicated and has the potential to royally muck your life up.  It is a good idea to take it seriously. If you have thought about it and are pretty sure that the most likely outcome of a particular technical breach of the law is having to reply penitently to a stern email and maybe remove some content, great.

But plenty of people seem to be taking larger risks with the kind of content that is likely to be protected vigorously by scary lawyers - and for what? Is it really worth the risk of becoming an example, for free music or DVD content? Maybe for someone who strongly believes in the principle of free information - but I'm not convinced that is the only motivation here.  


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
23rd Jun, 2011 09:22 (UTC)
I once worked at a software firm that managed contact data for a lot of clients. I had to persuade the CEO that taking all of the contact data and using it to send emails out in the hope of getting some business would be a bad idea.

Hey ho indeed :->
23rd Jun, 2011 10:42 (UTC)
Oh yes 'all the email addresses do not belong to you' - I've been there! :-D
23rd Jun, 2011 10:22 (UTC)
It must be said I tend to assume that a Cease-and-Desist will come first when I link to something potentially or actually copyrighted, but then I'm not doing anything commercial.
23rd Jun, 2011 10:38 (UTC)
Yes, absolutely, I expect it would too. And making that decision with an understanding of the scale and likelihood of risk, and the boundaries of 'commercial' makes total sense.

But, my impression is that most of the people sharing stuff don't understand either of those things. We've had people helpfully create videos and put a lot of work into them, but slap a copyrighted soundtrack on and use the charity logo. That's still non-commercial, but when they then send in the video to be embedded in our website, that's edging towards making decisions for the charity that are... uncomfortable. Particularly as they must have clicked right through Youtube's warning that says 'you aren't doing THIS are you?'
23rd Jun, 2011 11:40 (UTC)
I'm not entirely sure what the current copyright position is on links; if the link is to the original copyright holder's site (or their account on You-Tube, Flickr etc) then it is probably not a problem but if the content is embedded then it may be, depending on what sort of licence the copyright holder has attached to it. (Several of my photos have ended up in Wikipedia without anyone asking me - and this before I changed the licencing from 'All Rights Reserved' to 'Creative Commons' - while people with commercial sites almost always ask first.)

And, of course, the position in regard to stills from a TV programme or film used to be, in the UK at least, that using these was not a breech of copyright. The law has changed since then, but I'm not sure that this old case law does not still apply.

23rd Jun, 2011 12:15 (UTC)
I'm not sure on all of it, and my reading of the Telegraph article linked above makes me think that knowledge of the UK case law may not be much help if the Americans decide you are involved in nicking their stuff.

So I'm very cautious. I have a clause in my development agreement that says that my clients take full responsibility for any copyright issues relating to photos etc that they supply. I just hope that is enough!

Yay for Creative commons photography! I have shared photos on that basis too. Though my photography is not really at the level where it has any commercial value anyway. Photos of dogs and flowers: not exactly in short supply!
23rd Jun, 2011 15:59 (UTC)
In some ways American law is less strict on "fair use" than our own. My reading of EU law, for instance, is that fan fiction is illegal under it, while the US law is much more ambiguous.

However, if you are making money out of it, in any way, then things get much tougher under both sets of law.

Our so-called 'mutual extradition treaty' with the US is a joke!

I have a lot of photos of reasonably unusual dog breed crosses, which is a boon to the Wiki people. When I'm asked by commercial sites it's generally of places and cats.
23rd Jun, 2011 17:11 (UTC)
Copyright law seems to be an area where technology and social applications of technology have got well ahead of legislation and where location and audience are horribly complicated.

I think 'show me the money' is a good way to decide on a level of risk-averseness but the key thing for me is that there is a decision, not just an assumption that there is no risk. Deciding to take a risk is something we should all be able to do, but unwitting risks are mostly bad. Particularly in situations where the person doing the sharing is sharing risk of legal action with a technically illiterate relative, say.

I also think it's not only 'is the sharer making any money' but also 'could this be interpreted as taking money away from the legit copyright owner?' which could be a more sticky situation if the copyright owner is of a litigious bent.
23rd Jun, 2011 17:12 (UTC)
We don't have a mutual extradition treaty with the USA.

We have a treaty which says the USA don't have to provide any evidence of there being a case to answer before the UK hands over one of her Majesty's subjects to the US legal system, but prevents us from being able to extradite a US citizen here on almost any charge.
23rd Jun, 2011 18:12 (UTC)
Yes, precisely. A joke.
23rd Jun, 2011 18:29 (UTC)
IPR, fun stuff especially when you're drafting contracts for people who are doing artistic stuff for you. Been doing quite a bit of that recently, all add variety to the job and it's one of those areas that spills over into being useful in everyday life too :-)
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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