The Copyright Conspiracy

April 2nd, 2008

James Duncan Davidson is a professional software developer and a professional photographer, so chances are you’ve seen him around if you’ve been to any of a huge number of geek-oriented tradeshows and conferences. His work often ends up (legally!) on marketing sites from people such as Apple or O’Reilly, promoting events or people with candid shots that Duncan has snapped of them.

His work is prolific and intimately associated with the web and technology, so it’s probably no surprise that when it comes to copyright infringements, accidental or otherwise, he’s found himself at the butt end of the situation on more than one occasion.

In a thoughtful blog entry on the subject, Duncan points to an inherent disparity in copyright infringement legal procedure that, as often is the case, favors deep-pocketed corporations over “the little guys.” In a nutshell, your ability to sue for substantial damages is dramatically improved if you register your copyrighted works. But doing so on a regular basis is both tedious and expensive.

“Once I started looking at the costs and process of registration of my own work, it became clear the economics of the situation were not in the favor of the little guy. The problem is that the little guys are making most of the cool stuff these days. […] No matter how you slice it, the little guy gets the bad end of the deal.”

I’m fascinated by copyright and have naively been expecting some dramatic overhaul to the system for at least 10 years now. As Duncan points out, the “system” is becoming increasingly relied upon, yet increasingly useless to, the millions of small-time independent content producers who are a growing part of the American creative work force.

This issue applies somehow to your work, if you create anything and it has inherent intellectual qualities, and you would be injured by other people brazenly copying it. I don’t know if, after so many years of waiting, I am any longer foolish enough to expect change, but I still hope for it.

4 Responses to “The Copyright Conspiracy”

  1. Kevin Says:

    I’m waiting for patent reform too, but I’m certainly not holding my breath about it. Otherwise I’ll most certainly die.

  2. J Nozzi Says:

    It’s a sad state of affairs, sure, but the most important assets to an independent developer is/are their application(s). Fortunately, those are far easier to defend as you have source code and (hopefully) thousands of “witnesses” (users). Granted, I’m no lawyer, but it seems easier to defend that than, say, a photograph you took, a web illustration (button, widget, etc.), an icon, etc.

    Certainly the laws need reformed to reflect the shift toward the entrepreneurial proliferation the Internet has allowed (especially since digital works are generally intangible), but as Kevin said, hold your breath and you’ll probably just die. ;-)

    I don’t register my work because it is definitely cost-prohibitive, but in this age, it’s easy to bring public scorn down on copiers via blog posts. You can even have a laugh at simple icon theft. :-) I cite this:

    http://www.panic.com/extras/ripoff/

    The Panic guys are “pretty big” so it probably doesn’t hurt them as much. I might not have such a good sense of humor, and might be more likely to contact the infringers but if it’s an international dispute, threat of legal action is not likely to accomplish anything. This of course makes the whole “copyright laws need reform” argument seem almost silly if the scope is confined to your own country.

    The Internets, after all, (is/are?) a big place full of many, many tubes.

  3. Paul Jacobson Says:

    One option is to go in a different direction and publish your content under a free license like one of the Creative Commons licenses or GPL. If people want to share your work, why not create a framework where they can do so legitimately and create more awareness about you as the creator of that work?

    Creative Commons licenses automatically require some form of attribution, regardless of hoe permissive the license is, and this translates into links back to you and a public acknowledgement of you as the author. Granted there will still be people who wouldn’t change their nefarious habits regardless of how you license the content but licensing the content under a free content creates a new opportunity to spread the word about your talents.

  4. J Nozzi Says:

    While this is true if you’re not trying to make (at least part of) a living from your work, this blog post seems focused on those who *are* in it for profit. Mr. Davidson is one of those people. So is Mr. Jalkut and so am I. :-)

    Don’t get me wrong, I love making good software, but I’m running a business for a reason.

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