Tamsin Constable

If you publish online, whose copyright?

I wonder how many magazines or websites ‘lift’ work from the internet and reproduce it without permission, never mind payment? I suspect they’ll be keeping their heads very, very low right now, given how the internet lit up with hot outrage this week with a story about internet copyright.

Here’s what triggered the outcry. A US blogger discovered that a piece she had written had been published, without permission or payment, in a print magazine, Cooks Source. She wrote to the magazine editor, asking for an apology and a donation to a journalism school.

If the editor, Judith Griggs, had apologised and coughed up, the story may have fizzled out. Instead, she wrote back. She said that because the article was on the internet, it is in the public domain and not protected by copyright. (Just imagine if all you had to do to bypass copyright was to upload something…)

Her reply went ‘viral’.

First, she’s wrong. If you write something, it’s your copyright. The work is yours. You can agree to give away or sell the copyright in full or in part, but that’s your decision. You don’t even need to put the copyright symbol on your work (though that would help remind people not to lift it). You can reproduce some parts of someone else’s work (it’s called ‘fair use’), with attribution and, ideally, with permission.

Griggs went on to say, in an unforgivably patronising tone that Gaudio should be grateful that her piece was edited for free.

You can read more about this story on the blogger’s own site. There’s more about copyright on the US BlogHer network. And you can check whether anything you’ve written has appeared elsewhere on the internet (though not in print) at Copyscape.

The effect on the magazine, and on Griggs’s reputation, looks as though it is nothing short of catastrophic. Let’s hope it serves as a warning to other unscrupulous sites or publications.

PS – the story has already spawned two wonderful new memes: ‘to Briggs’ means ‘to lift someone’s writing’. And ‘buthonestlymonica’ (which Griggs wrote in her condescending reply) means a bad excuse for outrageous behaviour. Don’t you just love it?

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