Tags: real life, writing, other.
By lucb1e on 2013-03-16 15:04:11 +0100

Copyright is a funny thing. You have it, without asking for it or telling anyone about it. You can even have it on pseudonyms. And if someone copies your work, well good luck making the distribution undone. Last year the Dutch copyright law became 100 years old, but we're still living by its rules.

What I wonder is why people still put ©<?=current_year;> below their work. It's not legally binding for anyone in any way, it doesn't help protect your content, and it's often very inaccurate. Scroll down for a second and look at my copyright notice. (Protip: press the End key.)

Seen it? Me neither.

So then you're free to copy this blogpost and publicize it as your own? No, as mentioned before, I do not need to notify you about the copyright I automatically have over anything I create. This can be art, music, code, blogposts, heck even drawings on a whiteboard can be considered copyrighted.

As long as a work is dated and it's got the author's name on it, you can rest assured that copyright protection in effect. The reason why the date is important is because copyright is timebound. Ridiculously timebound, far beyond your own lifespan, but timebound nevertheless. Seventy years after my death, to be counted on January 1st, copyright on this blogpost will expire and I nor my heirs can claim ownership over it. With a common life expectancy, this would be in the year 2140. Do you still want to pirate it in 2140? Be my guest.

I do wonder what copyright has to say about imagery generated by computers. Then again, it'll be a while before computers start filing copyright complaints about work they've created.

So anyway, that's why marking the date is done. However, if the author is still alive, you can safely assume it's not 70 past his death yet, and you know who has copyright. So the only thing I find a date useful for is so that I can see when a website has not been updated in a while. Conclusion: Don't automatically update the year mark. It's annoying, legally invalid (it might void your right on copyright altogether), and in 2140 it would still say that this blogpost was written in 2140.

I'm not entirely sure what the rules are for companies. I think the employees technically still have copyright over the work they created (intellectual property), unless otherwise specified in their employment contract (which was not the case with my previous internship, I own parts of their website and some clients). If it came to a lawsuit though, the judge would probably laugh at the employee and tell him he can't claim that intellectual property because it should have been obvious that it was made to be used by the company (and he got paid for it, I hope). Deep down, judges and lawyers are also humans and have common sense ;)

As should be clear by the previous paragraph, copyright can be transferred. The author has no rights on the work he's done, if it's said so in the licence. You can also licence your work to others without giving them full rights, then you can change the licence at a later time. It probably depends on the licence what happens to copies made before the licence change.

Copyright is also limited. Besides your citation right (which allows you to cite short pieces), the media (like news reporters) can legally copy bigger parts of your work than you can. You, as non-reporter, can always try to claim you were doing it in the name of bringing news, but be sure to have a good cover because common sense is applied here too. And even if you do things in the name of bringing news, you are not allowed to copy it in whole if it's not really necessary. Oh and better also not remove the author's signature and replace it with your own.

For the Dutchies and Belgians among us, we're one of the last species on earth who are still allowed to pirate anything and everything! The "thuiskopierecht" (home copy right) allows us to copy anything for private use. Whomever we copied it from is illegal though: so we can't obtain it without someone breaking a law, but hey that's not our problem is it? Also the copy must have happened on Dutch or Belgian legal territory. That includes a Dutch embassy in America or something. Just go there if you wanna pirate movies on a USB-stick from a friend, and be sure to get your friend out of the country first because he'll be the one who commits the crime!

Note that patents and trademarks work differently, but here too it's up to the author (or someone operating in his name) to sue you. I don't foresee much trouble when you recreate or copy something for private use.

A few weeks ago I received a copyright notice about a .tk domain that I owned. The author of the email claimed copyright over the domain name, because he owned the .com version and he predated me. He spoke English natively so was good at talking lawyer-English, and it would have been pretty convincing if I didn't know what the law said about copyright.

Firstly this would be a trademark, which can be defensible even without registration (this is the ™ you see: unregistered trademarks), but simply owning another domain is not enough in any case. I looked it up, and he had no registered trademark either. The follow-up question would have been whether the trademark is also legally valid in my jurisdiction (since they are geographically limited, even for domains), and which jurisdiction .tk domains are actually under. Their main office is here in The Netherlands, so that's home ground, and I'd have liked to see him come over for the lawsuit he was threatening with.

I have a valid reason to own the domain, which is the ICANN's general requirement for owning it (that's why will be taken from you if you don't have a company with that name or something, which is unlikely), so he could not use that as an argument either.

Whenever receiving copyright noticed and you are like "... seriously?", it's most likely a fake. It costs a lot of money to organize lawsuits, especially cross-jurisdictional (international) ones. In this case he admitted to be a fake after I smoked him by explaining why all angles he could possible take were invalid, but I must say that it was a gamble. Had he been a real lawyer, I'd have pissed him off quite badly. And he might have had a lawyer as uncle or something, which would have meant that I could have gotten my ass kicked anyway, even if it was a lie.

If you are ever in this position, find someone who knows a thing or two about this. I can give you some advice, but I'm in no way close to a real lawyer. And do your homework, there is lots to find on Wikipedia already. Be sure to still ask someone else though, it's easy to overlook something. In the meantime you can ask them to point out the applicable part of the law (with a link to the full one) and why they think you're violating it. That much never hurts.

Good luck, and don't forget to remove that automatically updating copyright notice from your website!
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