Saturday, January 19, 2008

Copyright: It's your body of content. Don't let people use it without permission.

I wanted to share a recent press release from the Association of American Publishers. Most publishers, including Harlequin, are members, and I am on the board.

The AAP wrestles with many issues that impact publishers, but the rights of the copyright holders to control their information—both in terms of freedom of speech/challenging censorship, as well as against misuse and piracy—are big issues.

Publishers Announce Agreements with Universities on New Copyright Guidelines for Course Content in Digital Formats

Three universities—Hofstra, Syracuse and Marquette—have reached agreement with the AAP on new copyright guidelines affirming that educational content delivered to students in digital formats should be treated under the same copyright principles that apply to printed materials.

Announced on January 17, the guidelines, which were developed separately by the three universities, govern how librarians and faculty members distribute copyrighted content through library electronic course reserves systems, course management systems, faculty and departmental web pages and other digital formats.

AAP worked with each of the three universities in cooperative efforts to establish easily understood and commonsense standards that help faculty and staff understand and interpret their rights and responsibilities when using copyrighted content in educational settings. Each of the guidelines reflects the specific needs of the particular university and is consistent with the principles of fair use while providing helpful guidance as to when permission from the copyright holder is required to copy or post materials in digital formats. AAP believes the guidelines, which are similar to those adopted by Cornell University last year, will serve as models for others colleges and universities.

In the last two years AAP has initiated discussions with a number of universities after observing that unlicensed digital copies of course materials were gradually replacing the licensed physical copying of articles, book chapters and other copyrighted works. While it is well established that physical copying of materials for distribution to multiple students, often in compilations known as coursepacks, generally requires permission from the copyright holder, faculty and staff seem less aware that permission is similarly required for distribution of electronic copies of such copyrighted materials. The new guidelines at each university clarify that the use of copyrighted works in digital formats requires such permission.

To view the copyright guidelines, go to:


Now you'd think asking universities—asking anyone—to treat making and disseminating digital copies of copyrighted material in the same way paper photocopies of the same amount of material would be treated would be a no-brainer, wouldn't you? i.e. you'd need the same permissions—a process with an established protocol at Universities (established, I have to add, after a lawsuit some years ago, but in place for over a decade).

Unfortunately not.

I applaud Cornell, Hofstra, Syracuse and Marquette for taking a stand. It is the right thing to do, but they won't get universal accolades.

So why should we care that some professors are cheerfully doing their fellow professors out of any income from their scholarly work, now being read gratis on line? In fact some of us may be thankful, for the generous 'cost savings' those schools are passing on to parents and students from this practice.

Well, if you are generating income from being a storyteller, it is of collective concern that not only is a new generation being raised to think anything digital should be free and that copyright theft is acceptable by their peers—they are hearing it from their teachers and parents. Not good.

So your ox may not be getting gored right now, but just wait! If any part of your livelihood is based on copyright—as a writer, reader, publisher—and you don't support the principal of copyright protection in how you live, how you raise your kids, how you value other's work, consider the consequences. Please.

I do wonder what will happen when these kids actually need to make money from their work—will the 'everything should be free' tune change? Or will they just continue to live with their parents during their creative phase? Or will we see a dearth of new artists, because they can't make any income from their creative work? Will only those creative self marketers survive? Interesting....

In fairness the system for determining and acquiring rights is cumbersome and needs a major overhaul. Also many copyright holders and businesses have chosen to make their material available gratis for many reasons.

That is their choice. I believe the content creator or rights holder should be able to have that choice. It's your body of content. Don't let people use it without permission.


Lorie-eharlequin said...

Hi Isabel.

You know I think you made an excellent point. If not from their parents and teachers, how are kids supposed to learn that there is a real cost to all this supposed "free" downloading?

Isabel Swift said...

Lorie, thanks for leaving the cool newly upgraded community and stopping by!

Yes, you'd hope parents and teachers would be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

New directions always take time to shake down, for the new business model to clarify, and it's not an easy process.

Just have to keep presenting the copyright & content creator's side, tell the story & also work to make it simpler to 'do the right thing.'

Shirley Hailstock said...

Hi Isabel,

Since you and I worked on copyrights for long periods of time, I truly believe in giving the owner their due rewards.

I am a parent of the generation who believes everything on the Internet should be free. But like my generation who thought of everyone over 30 as THE ESTABLISHMENT, until they became the establishment.

Optimistically, I think they will learn. Like you say, when they want their own creative rights protected.

I still teach them that songs, books, artwork, should not be used without permission of the author. Hopefully, it is sinking in.


Isabel Swift said...

Shirley: as the previous president of the Romance Writers of America, thank you for sharing your vision and a message of hope for future generations. From you lips....!

I can only speculate on what might turn the tide, but at some point, these upcoming generations are going to want/need to get paid for their own ideas and work. Perhaps the penny will drop that getting ripped off isn't nearly as entertaining as ripping others off, and that stopping the one may stop the other and actually allow a mutually beneficial business to grow.