Learn a Lesson in Copyright from a Copyright Lawyer Who Can’t Get it Right

Copyright law 101: If you make a wholesale copy of someone else’s entire blog post and publish it on your blog without permission, you are violating that person’s copyright. It’s not fair use. There’s no implied license. It’s simply wrong.

Imagine my surprise earlier this week when I discovered that a lawyer — a lawyer who advertises himself as practicing copyright law — was copying everything I posted to my blog and posting it to his blog. Not only that, but he was doing the same for a number of other legal bloggers.

When I wrote him and politely asked that he stop, he responded that he thought I had given him an implied license to publish my posts by virtue of the fact that my blog has an RSS feed. Sorry, no.

He also revealed that he had been doing this for some time. Apparently, his recent change of blog-publishing platform to WordPress had caused my WordPress installation to pick up on his posts.

To his credit, at the bottom of each post, he did identify me as the author and provide a link back to my blog.

He also immediately agreed to take them down and not to publish any more of my posts without my permission.

But then today another of my posts appeared on his blog. And so I’ll be sending him another email.

I am refraining from identifying him out of courtesy. I give him the benefit of the doubt that he did not intend to do anything wrong. I’ll blame today’s reappearance on a computer glitch.

But lawyers, if anyone, should understand this basic rule of copyright: Don’t copy!

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  • Nels

    I understand your point, but doesn’t it make a difference to what use he is putting the material? It is not entirely clear why he is posting your entries on his site; the impression I am getting is that his site might be an aggregation site with things he thinks are relevant or pertinent to his business.

    I mean, if his blog consisted of a scholarly, line-by-line deconstruction or criticism of your posts, wouldn’t that be fair use, notwithstanding his copying of your work? I am also wondering, because I simply do not know, whether or not copying of a single, briet blog post (N.B. this is obviously not the case at bar), might be seen as fair use if it is considered as a small part of the larger creative work that is your blog, were one to proffer it as a representative sample of you work, e.g.

    • Nels

      In addition, if he is using his site as an internet aggregator, how would his use be different from that of the Huffington Post, whose absurdly-large sale price suggests that it was not grossly vulnerable to takedown by copyright suits?

  • This happens to me all the time. It’s pervasive and annoying to be a one man cease and desist machine.

    • I frequently give presentations and my decks include a copyright reference. My material is regularly appropriated by others. I have often thought of writing cease and desist letters. Notwithstanding my offense, I have determined that I’d rather put the time (and energy) into something positive.

      I was recently at a presentation of a well-known legal vendor and several slides from my presentation appeared before me. I gasped, and the speaker responded by complimenting the quality of the content and acknowledged that it was mine.

      I continue to be irked, but I’m not sure what benefit a small shop like mine derives from pursuing my rights- I’m more interested in working with my clients and continuing to develop new and worthwhile ideas.

      Thoughts?

  • I’m just curious, what would be an acceptable use, in your eyes, of your RSS feed?

    • The primary reason I have an RSS feed is so that people can follow and read my blog using a news reader. This makes it easier for the reader. They can scan posts from my blog and others they follow more quickly and do not have to visit each blog directly.

      I welcome readers to link to posts of mine and even to publish excerpts.

      What I object to is the wholesale republication of every single post I write.

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  • Robert,

    I can see your frustration in someone reproducing your work in total, eliminating the need for readers to visit your blog.

    My question is: How is this different from a newsreader that contains the full version of your posts?

    Thanks,

    Shawn

    • I want people to read my blog. A newsreader enables them to do that. It is a tool for accessing my content. The content still comes from my site, in the form of an XML file readable by the newsreader software. I control the distribution.

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