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Does Copyright Still Apply in the Digital Age?

November 8, 2010

Copyright is an issue that’s important to most media professionals. From an article written by a journalist to photographs to movies, copyright is designed to protect the IP of a content producer but is it relevant in the Digital Age?

Under Australian law, a photographer automatically holds the copyright for any image they take, unless they specifically sign away their rights. This applies to any published image but doesn’t apply to images for personal use, such as family portraits or weddings. What happens when family portraits are published onto Facebook?

On November 4 at the WIPO Global Meeting on Emerging Copyright Licensing Modalities – Facilitating Access to Culture in the Digital Age, influential copyright scholar Larry Lessig issued a call for the World Intellectual Property Organization to lead an overhaul of the copyright system. According to Lessig, the current copyright system is failing ““And its failure is not an accident, it’s implicit in the architecture of copyright as we inherited it. It does not make sense in a digital environment.”

This is a sentiment Monica Gaudio, a student blogger, no doubt agrees with. Ms Gaudio has recently found herself in the centre of an IP storm when she discovered Cooks Source magazine had taken an article she wrote for a website and published it with her byline.

The magazine did not seek consent nor even try to contact her to let her know they were interested in using her copy.

She subsequently contacted the magazine and told them “I wanted an apology on Facebook, a printed apology in the magazine and $130 donation (which turns out to be about $0.10 per word of the original article) to be given to the Columbia School of Journalism”.

Her requests weren’t particularly onerous, there is no hint of litigation, in fact none were even for personal gain. Despite this, Cooks Source response was:

“Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

She continues:

“The web is NOT public domain! Don’t believe me? Try the University of Maryland University College — or just Google it … I should be thankful because I wasn’t flat out plagiarized? Don’t college students get, oh, I dunno, tossed out for being caught for plagiarism? How is this a valid argument?”

Lessig says the basic architecture of copyright law must be simplified, “if it’s going to regulate 15-year-olds it should be something that 15-year-olds can understand”; and targeted – regulation makes sense in some areas, such as protecting professionals, but not in others, such as in amateur remixing. It also must be effective, and realistic in consideration of “actual human behaviour.”

Perhaps a fundamental overhaul will also protect amateurs like Ms. Gaudio form professionals like Cooks Source magazine.

For more on Monica Gaudio –http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2010/nov/04/cooks-source-copyright-complaint

For more on Lessig’s views on copyright – http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog/2010/11/05/lessig-calls-for-wipo-to-lead-overhaul-of-copyright-system/

UPDATE: Due in part to the Monica Gaudio incident, Cooks Source magazine has closed, see http://www.cookssource.com/

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