Copyright, copyleft, mashup

Bloggers should have some familiarity with copyright law and some of the new currents that run in opposition to traditional copyrights. This is no legal treatise but a quick exposure to help keep you out of trouble, particularly if you’re blogging interests are commercial.
sets forth this definition:

“Copyright laws grant the creator the exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute, perform and display the work publicly. Exclusive means only the creator of such work, not anybody who has access to it and decides to grab it.”

Most of the news coverage and angst over copyright in the media has been over music downloads, and I’ll skirt that today to focus on the copyright considerations of greatest importance to word-based bloggers. The legal injunction — do not steal copyrighted works in their entirety — contains a small loophole. This is the recognized right, called “fair use,” to quote and attribution portions of a copyrighted work, as in fact I did above.

The Stanford Libraries have a useful Copyright & Fair Use compendium that says in part:

“Fair use is a copyright principle based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism. For example, if you wish to criticize a novelist, you should have the freedom to quote a portion of the novelist’s work without asking permission … Unfortunately, if the copyright owner disagrees with your fair use interpretation, the dispute will have to be resolved by courts or arbitration.”

If you are new to public writing game you might want to scan the Stanford site but most of this is pretty common sense stuff if you simply don’t take too much of anyone else’s work and you give them credit. By the way, lifting a section from another written work without attribution is plagiarism and while it may or may not be a copyright violation, it is bad form.

Many computer programmers and Web page creators have spawned a counter-movement that rejects copyrights, arguing that digital information is not simply easy to copy — it is best improved when it is freely available for others to make their own embellishments. Given the financial stakes involved in selling copyrighted works, this is a huge debate that will not be settled in this blog entry. I do want you to know about what is called the copyleft movement so you can think on this at your leisure.

As bloggers, you will be able to make a choice as to how or whether to protect your own works, and nowadays there is an alternative to traditional copyright. A set of licenses popularized by a group called Creative Commons allows you to reserve some rights while making your works available to other to read, quote, perhaps even modify or improve. I use a Creative Commons license on this blog because I want it to be shared. I think that’s the way of the Web.

More recently the Web has been buzzing about a concept called the mashup. Wikipedia defines “a mashup (as) a website or web application that seamlessly combines content from more than one source into an integrated experience.” An article in Business Week illustrates some of the examples and captures some of the excitement over mashups. Sometimes I wonder if the excitement isn’t a little overblown, but nevertheless in searching around this morning I found a Website created by the Web 2.0 Workgroup that lists a growing array of mashups. This is cutting edge stuff, much of which is over my head I’m afraid, but if it’s where the Web is going it at least makes sense to be aware of it.

Tom Abate
Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media