Mein, It's All Mein! Precioussss Copyrightttt.
September 21, 2003 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Simon Waldman, director of digital publishing for Guardian Newspapers, found an interesting piece on Hitler's Mountain Home, "A Visit to 'Haus Wachenfeld" in a 1938 copy of Homes & Gardens magazine. Intrigued by the glowing nature of the article and it's historical importance [We hear a lot about how the British upper and upper-middle classes felt that 'That Hitler chap had some very good ideas' ... but it's only when you see it in this almost comically fawning form that you realise how someone who can seem utterly abhorrent with hindsight can appeal to people at the time,] he posted it to his blog only to be sent a takedown notice by Homes & Gardens magazine, for copyright violation. Wired has the story.
posted by Blue Stone (16 comments total)
Cries into beer.
posted by Blue Stone at 9:30 AM on September 21, 2003

If it's any consolation, your thread title was funnier.
posted by fullerine at 9:38 AM on September 21, 2003

True that, fullerine.

I have to say that this is a nasty little side-effect of copyright laws getting extended into the centuries-long term, rather than decades-long.

Are we going to have a society where the people who now download MP3s (insulent curs!) would get arrested for distributing pics like this over the web, even 70 years after they were publicly for sale?

Granted, this is a cease-and-desist notice, effectively. If AOL really wanted to crush people, it could bear fangs which would put any citizen in severe debt.

I guess the lesson is what? Don't contact the company you're quoting/posting from? Not like he didn't give credit where it was due– (or maybe that was the problem...)
posted by Busithoth at 9:50 AM on September 21, 2003

posted by dgaicun at 10:00 AM on September 21, 2003

Man violates copyright; is sent cease-and-desist. Am I missing something else here?
posted by Hogshead at 1:45 PM on September 21, 2003

Hogshead: yes. the Net should be free...we should take anything we want that was done by some bloke trying to be creative and/or doing a job for a company...and we too should be able to do anything we like with it! Pre-net days, such doings would not occur to anyone.
posted by Postroad at 1:50 PM on September 21, 2003

Man violates copyright; is sent cease-and-desist. Am I missing something else here?

I think you're missing the central point of the argument, actually. No one disagrees with the fact that Waldman violated the Home & Gardens copyright; rather, they are making a argument that this particular instance demonstrates a fundamental flaw in contemporary copyright policy. The material in question was created over 50 years ago, and is of significant historical interest. Current copyright laws prevent the republication and distribution of this material, however. From a public-policy point of view, this is a problem, as it hinders historical research and discussion, while providing no tangible benefit to the copyright holder, who seeks to squelch publication rather than to profit from it. This runs counter to the original purpose of copyright, which is, in the words of the U.S. Constitution, "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors...the exclusive Right to their respective Writings.... " Here, we see copyright being used to discourage the publication of a discussion of historical interest, rather than to promote it. Opponents of the current copyright regime would argue that a shorter copyright term would allow the current historical discussion without significantly reducing the incentive to create materials such as the original Homes & Gardens article, since incentives fifty years or more in the future are rarely relevant to authors when the make the decision to create a work.

And that's what you're missing, I think. You might want to take a look at this, if you want a more in-depth take on the point of view of opponents of the current copyright regime.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:09 PM on September 21, 2003

Speaking of the original article, I remember once coming across a copy of National Geographic from the early '80s with a glowing piece on Saddam Hussein's nice, prosperous and secular Iraq.

Turns out it was in the January 1985 issue...
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:53 PM on September 21, 2003

Again, I really wonder how agressive Home and Gardens would be about sending such an order if they weren't approached directly. He had it up since May, but only now got the letter, after the hits grew to tens of thousands. I suppose it's only a matter of time.
posted by Busithoth at 2:56 PM on September 21, 2003

I'm confused. So it's not ok for this blogger guy to scan the magazine and put the article up on the web, but it *is* ok for holocaust revisionist David Irving to download the scans that the blogger guy made of the magazine off of his website and put them up on his?

Why does he get all the perks?
posted by dgaicun at 3:36 PM on September 21, 2003

The issue is one of copyright stifling education and discussion of important matters, and essentially for no real reason other than "ownership."

Even if there were some small financial incentive for Homes & Gardens to retain exclusive control over the dissemination of this item, I doubt anyone could convincingly argue that this outweighs the educational value it has to present-day, and future, society.

As things stand, our culture is increasingly the property of this or that corporate body. We have to question how this impacts human civilization at large, and this matter is, it seems to me, a good example of how copyright can work against society.

[And of course trademarks and patents and any form of so-called "intellectual property."]

posted by Blue Stone at 4:38 PM on September 21, 2003

Another problem is that people accept copyright claims at face value. The US Copyright Code grants fair use exceptions for educational use and works of no commercial value. Since both is the case here, he should have just ignored the letter. (And two extra points for writing the guys in the first place - duh.)
posted by Eloquence at 6:15 PM on September 21, 2003

No one disagrees with the fact that Waldman violated the Home & Gardens copyright

I do; two or three pages from a (much longer) out-of-print work, for critical purposes, is classic fair use. Besides, do we even know that the publishers renewed the copyright? Unless it was renewed in its 28th year, it has long since passed into the public domain.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:39 PM on September 21, 2003

Critical purposes is the key phrase, Ishmael. The problem is there wasn't any criticism. If Waldman had just included a few quotes from the article in the context of his own thoughts he would have been in the clear. Instead he reproduced the entire article page by page without any commentary.

See #4 under Brad Templeton's 10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained for details on fair use.
posted by hyperizer at 9:44 AM on September 22, 2003

There is also no such thing as copyright renewal in the UK.
posted by kerplunk at 12:26 PM on September 22, 2003

"10 Big Myths" is useful but simplistic. "Critical purposes" was probably the wrong clause to invoke; "reporting" would have been better. Look at this case in which one newspaper reprinted the front page of a magazine and was sued for copyright violation — pretty much the same thing as is going on here, although the paper was sued by the photographer rather than the paper. Nonetheless if you read to the end of the article you'll find:
However, the case did not end there. How could the Toronto Star use Saturday Night''s copyright without the consent of Saturday Night?

To answer to that question, we have to delve into the Copyright Act a little deeper by examining the Act''s "fair dealing defence." This is a complicated little defence, so you may want to receive legal advice before invoking it. In a nutshell, it allows a person to use another person''s copyright without their consent if the purpose of that use is for private study, research, criticism, review or newspaper summary.
And this is under Canadian law, which seems to employ a similar "fair dealing" doctrine as UK law rather than the US "fair use" doctrine. (And I didn't originally realize the publishers were based in the UK.)
posted by IshmaelGraves at 1:58 PM on September 22, 2003

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