Notes on Copyright & Related Issues

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Copyright and Electronic Publishing

The general ideas behind the copyright rules are the same for electronic as for any other medium.

The mechanics, however, differ, and do so with legal implications.

For example: Educational fair use says you may copy an excerpt one time, as long as you make no more copies than there are students in the class. If you make only one copy, and put it on the WWW, then it is probably publicly available, with the potential for many more copies to be downloaded than students (whether temporarily into RAM or permanently via printer). The quality of subsequent copies, furthermore, does not degrade as it does with older media. There do not yet exist legal precedents for thoroughly dealing with these issues.

For example: Copyright exists as soon as an expression is fixed in tangible form. Does electronic mail thus qualify for copyright protection? You might think so, but there is so far no legal precedent that ensures this. Furthermore, if the discussion is on an electronic conference or newgroup, who holds the copyright: the individual authors will separately own their own contributions but who, if anyone, owns the collective work? Would fair use brevity measures be measured against individual messages, a particular thread, or an entire conference? Again, no legal precedents exist.

And these are but two of many, many possible issues on this topic.

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Created: Feb 16 1996 --- Last modified: Fri May 17 17:04:03 1996
Copyright © 1996 by The Geometry Center. All rights reserved.