Tag Archives: copyright infringement

It’s just copyright infringement

I was reading an article online by Jean-François Lisée, about the whole Denise Bombardier/Pierre Foglia brouhaha, when I came across this:

Denise Bombardier a dégainé dans Le Devoir de samedi le 17 octobre. Le texte L’intouchable (pas en accès libre sur le site du Devoir mais repris ici), vaut le détour et se conclut comme suit:

Le Devoir is one of the few remaining newspapers that still keeps its online articles restricted to subscribers, which is quite annoying to bloggers but nevertheless their choice. Though there are many articles published by the paper that talk about Quebec media (without the awkwardness of being owned by a huge megacorporation like Gesca, Quebecor, CTV or Canwest), I can’t share them because others don’t have access.

In this case, an anonymous member posted the complete text of the article on the public forums of the Cowboys Fringants website, allowing others to read it without subscribing. That forum post was passed around through social media, in lieu of a proper Le Devoir link.

The post is blatant copyright infringement, and Lisée clearly knows that. But he links to it anyway in his blog.

What’s surprising is that this is something I see a lot of from professional journalists online. Maybe it’s a YouTube video of the latest Tout le monde en parle segment that’s getting everyone talking, or some photo they found on the Internet that they want to use to illustrate a blog post. They’ll link to or duplicate something that they either know or should know is infringing on someone else’s copyright.

You’d think professional writers, of all people, would know better.

Another blogger war with the Evil MSM

Associated Press, a wire service I have grown to miss ever since my newspaper’s owner cut it off, has gotten into a kerfuffle with bloggers that’s making headlines everywhere.

The issue, simply put, is over how much bloggers can excerpt from an article before the quoting becomes reproducing. It’s an issue a lot of content producers struggle with because there are no hard-and-fast rules for fair use of other people’s content.

The problem, in this case, is that AP went too far, demanding excerpts as short as 35 words be deleted. That’s about two sentences, and just about any reasonable person would judge that to be an excerpt rather than a reproduction of an AP article (unless that article itself was only 35 words, and even then it would be debatable). From a web form that the AP has been using, it seems even five words from them would be considered infringing if not paid for.

Now AP is meeting with some self-appointed blogging representatives to hammer out some guidelines for bloggers. This is a good idea, but it cannot be used to restrict rights already given under fair use law. It can only provide additional rights of reproduction, and make suggestions to stay out of trouble.

But as much as I think AP’s position is silly in all this, the response from blogs like TechCrunch is ridiculous. A complete ban on referencing AP stories? A boycott? Please. Not only does this give AP exactly what it wants, does anyone seriously expect that a wide range of bloggers is going to not talk about a story just because AP broke it?

UPDATE: I have to admit, this is pretty funny.

That’s one small DUNT for a woman…

In addition to being mocked on the Colbert Report, the Hockey Night in Canada theme situation has also made the New York Times.

As a side note, I’ve noticed that mainstream media websites, when talking about the Hockey Night theme, have been linking to a version of it on YouTube which was clearly infringing on copyright. Later, when some of these same media websites talked about the Colbert Report talking about the Hockey Night in Canada theme, they linked to another YouTube video, which was also infringing on copyright. (Both those videos have since been taken down.) Is it appropriate for media websites to be promoting content they know to be infringing on other people’s copyright?

UPDATE: Scott Moore, the executive director of CBC TV sports, has a post up about the HNIC theme and the responses he’s gotten about it.

Lessons on plagiarism

Torontoist (via Regret the Error) talks about a Toronto blogger and Flickrite who had photos of his used on Citytv’s CP24 news network without permission, credit or compensation, and has finally received vindication in the form of a Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruling in his favour.

This kind of thing, sadly, is nothing new. Last year I mentioned TVA using a photo from Taxi de nuit’s Pierre-Léon, similarly stolen from his Flickr page. There was also blogger Julie Bélanger, who had a photo of hers taken from her Flickr page and used in Quebecor’s 24 Heures.

I think there are lessons to be learned from this, not just for traditional media, but for bloggers as well, about using other people’s content without permission.

In many blogs I subscribe to, I often see photos used to illustrate posts. That’s usually a good idea, because photos attract attention, and they can show things clearly that words sometimes can’t.

But in most of those cases, the photos weren’t taken by the blogger. They might have been taken by a wire service like Canadian Press or Getty Images, or by a local newspaper, or by some random person on Flickr.

And very often (almost universally for professional photos), they are used without permission.

The problem comes, I think, because of a misunderstanding of “fair use” or “fair dealing” provisions of copyright law (assuming the infringer cares about copyright to begin with — some clearly don’t). These are exceptions to copyright law for things like academic study, criticism and parody.

For example, if I wanted to criticize a Hollywood movie, I would be within my rights to use an excerpt from that movie to do so. Or if I was writing a news article about a work of art, I could print a photo of it beside the article.

But many people misunderstand the exception, and assume that they can just slap on any wire service or Flickr photo to illustrate any story, even if the story is not about the photo.

The excuses used for this, by professional and amateur media moguls alike, include:

  • It was free (gratis) online, therefore it’s free (as in freedom) to use
  • My site is non-commercial
  • It’s used to illustrate a news article
  • There was no alternative
  • I used a small-resolution version

Neither of these, by themselves, or together, justify copyright infringement. They may be mitigating factors, but they are not criteria for fair use.

The last excuse, used more by bloggers who think they’re doing the right thing, is that the photo is credited, and therefore there’s no infringement.

This unwritten policy seems to have come out of increasingly popular copyleft licenses used by people to encourage the spreading of their work. There’s an assumption that everyone on the Internet uses such licenses, which allow the free use of material provided it is credited. Not all blogs, nor all photos on Flickr, use copyleft licenses. And even those who do have different clauses which allow for different things.

In the absence of a copyleft (or other) license, all rights are reserved, and that means you need to get permission before using other people’s work.

In most cases, that permission is given freely. But you still need to ask.

PicApp: Ads for copyright compliance?

If you know what Getty Images is, chances are you’ve seen some of their stock photos used on blog posts to add some visual flair. Some times they’re used under a license, other times not so much.

In an attempt to capitalize on bloggers who steal photos without permission, an outfit called PicApp has reached a deal with Getty in which they’ll provide photos free of charge, along with ads to offset licensing costs.

The service is in private beta, but you can see it in action on PicApp’s blog. Basically, it’s a complicated JavaScript/Flash combination that, if you’re lucky, won’t crash your browser. It’s also annoying as hell, but that’s the entire point.

Perhaps I’m just being cynical, but I don’t see bloggers going through setting this up and dealing with these ads just so they can comply with copyright law, something they tend not to care too much about anyway.

“Fair use” is not a loophole

I hear (via Ingram) about Yet Another Popular Video Clip Show being launched by Digg and Revision3: The Digg Reel.Like TVA’s Vlog (which I wrote about last week in The Gazette), which was the focus of my piece last week, The Digg Reel relies strictly on the Fair Use exception to copyright law, and shows “short” clips of videos with “analysis.” In fact, one of the videos is a clip from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and bizarrely credited to the Huffington Post.

Judging from their first episode, I can’t imagine sitting through it on a regular basis, for the following reasons that seem to be part of some formula for all such shows:

  1. There’s no analysis. It’s just some bimbo giving the title of the clips (she forces herself to use the exact titles as submitted by Diggers, as if that’s somehow important), the number of Diggs (despite the fact that we can see it on screen, and again we don’t care) and a short description of the video, which sounds like it was written by an Academy Award presentation intro writer. Instead of the show’s producers making their own comments, which might be interesting, they just read selected comments attached to the Digg articles (most of which aren’t that interesting).
  2. I hate it when people credit screennames, especially in video. Not only does it sound stupid, but if people aren’t going to give their real names, why should we credit them?
  3. I don’t need help to discover the Daily Show, or TED, or Transformers, or Bill Gates, or Associated Press. I want to discover things I’ve never seen before, obscure web artists with good quality videos. If the show is going to artificially limit itself to only the most popular Digg videos as opposed to, say, exercising any editorial control, then it’s going to be nothing more than a popularity contest (and, eventually, porn).
  4. She’s not funny. Period. Sorry. And the only thing worse than unfunny hosts is unfunny hosts who think they’re hilarious.
  5. The format for this show is mind-numbingly simple, and yet there are mistakes. Videos are credited to the servers they’re found on instead of their creators (Daily Show credited to Huffington Post, Associated Press to Breitbart, others to YouTube). Comments aren’t read properly.

But the most important objection I have to this show is that, like Vlog and all the others, it blatantly tries to profit off other people’s work. Permission is not sought before these videos are aired. No payment goes out to their creators for a license to rebroadcast. Profits from the show aren’t shared.

And in my opinion, that’s copyright infringement. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

According to Revision3 CEO Jim Louderback and his lawyers, it’s fair use (though he’ll gladly take down the Daily Show clip if Viacom asks) because they analyze it and provide short clips.

The problem is that these producers (and, I suspect, their lawyers) aren’t familiar enough with fair use (U.S.) and fair dealing (Canada) copyright exceptions. Yes, news and commentary are covered under these provisions, however they only do so under certain conditions:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature: FAIL. The show is clearly a for-profit venture (even including commercial advertising) whose main selling point is the videos themselves, not analysis of them.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work: FAIL. There is no overriding public interest in seeing a video of a rabbit opening a letter. There is no reason to believe these videos shouldn’t have copyright protections.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole: FAIL. A 30-second clip from a motion picture or an hour-long TV show is one thing. But a 30-second clip of a 35-second video is a substantial portion and is not covered under fair use.
  4. The effect of the use upon the value of the copyrighted work: FAIL. If I can watch these videos here, there’s no reason to seek them online and buy them or look at the ads whose profits might actually go to the videos’ creators.

There’s this mindset among some producers that there’s a magic 30-second or 45-second rule that simply doesn’t exist in law. That as long as video clips are shorter than this length, that as long as they’re credited, and as long as there’s some random chatter about the videos, that their show is news and the use of videos qualifies as fair use.
It doesn’t.

And even if it did, it’s morally wrong to profit off other peoples’ work like this. Simply offering to remove videos after the fact is both ridiculous (what are they going to do, black out portions of existing episodes?) and shows a blatant lack of respect for people’s rights.

I expect this kind of thing from big media. I don’t expect it from Digg.

(You Digg?)

Arrests in tvboxset.com case?

The RCMP announced today that they have made eight arrests in a DVD counterfeiting network based in Montreal that was selling bad copies of DVDs (and in some cases off-TV recordings) of U.S. television series through multiple websites.

The RCMP doesn’t name the eight people arrested, nor the websites involved, nor the name of the company they were working under. But all signs point to TVBoxSet.com, which The Gazette wrote about in August after many users complained of either not getting what they ordered or getting bad copies of what they were expecting. The website is currently offline.

(I tried to call the RCMP spokesperson to confirm this, but their office apparently closes before 3:45pm on a day they issue a major news release.)

Garcia Media Group, which was the company behind the operation, distributed the DVDs through the following nearly-identical websites:

  • tvboxset.com
  • ultimatedvdshop.com
  • allmyfavouriteshows.com
  • tvaddicts.tv
  • tvdvdplanet.net
  • tvondisc.com
  • tvdvdcraze.tv
  • tvmilk.com

as well as a number of other domains that have since been turned into spam sites.

Many of the sites listed above are still operational and will still gladly accept your credit card information.

Not that anyone should be held responsible for being defrauded, but some simple sleuthing on the part of surfers could have prevented their losing money to these scam sites:

  • Check a vendor’s reputation, if only through a simple Google search, before deciding to do business with them. Don’t just assume a professional-looking website will be any more official than some unknown person on eBay.
  • Find out information about a vendor from their website. Do they have a head office? Do they say who they’re owned by? Do they provide links to other organizations that can vouch for them?
  • Be suspicious of any company that offers region-free DVDs or DVDs that haven’t been released yet.
  • If a company says “no problem” at shipping (especially copyrighted and release-controlled material like DVDs) to over 100 countries, chances are they’re ignoring the law.
  • 80% discounts on popular items just don’t happen.
  • Don’t give your credit card number on an unsecured connection!

It should be noted, of course, that this is bootlegging in the traditional sense, profiting off the selling of copied copyrighted material. It is clearly covered under existing copyright law, and it’s clearly illegal.

The RCMP says it started an investigation in February (why did it take them that long?). Let’s hope they have a solid case that will result in long sentences and heavy fines, and that everyone who has been scammed will be refunded.

UPDATE (Dec. 25): Missed this TQS video of the operation, including stacks of dozens of DVD burners that practically bring it into the territory of cartoonish supervillainy.

How to piss off a blogger 101

  1. Setup a website that purports to be some sort of independent news source.
  2. Take a blog post and put it on your website without asking permission. At the end of the post, include a plea for money.
  3. When the blogger you just stole from err, politely requests that the post be taken down, respond by replacing his byline with your own, removing the link to the blog in question and keeping the plagiarized content pretending it’s your own.

There you go folks. Getting on my shit list in three easy steps.

So to be clear: “The Canadian National Newspaper”, a.k.a. AgoraCosmopolitan.com knowingly plagiarizes content.

UPDATE (Dec. 1): It goes without saying that I’m not the only one they’ve ripped off.

Own a photocopier, get sued

In the “are you sure that wasn’t in the Onion first?” files, Access Copyright, a Canadian copyright licensing agency, is suing Staples/Business Depot/Bureau en Gros for copyright infringement, to the tune of $10 million.

Their argument (and I use the term loosely) seems to be that because the chain has a photocopying service, it is profiting off the illegal photocopying going on in its stores and is liable for contributory infringement.

Welcome to the post-Napster world folks, where simply offering people the tools to commit copyright infringement somehow makes you guilty. Next up, we can expect photocopying machine makers, paper mills and ink manufacturers, as well as the retailers who sell them, to get handed court papers. Now that personal responsibility is dead, everyone else is guilty. The bar owner is responsible if someone drives home drunk. Railroad companies are responsible if someone gets hit by a train.

If this had been brought up 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But then the DMCA brought in the idea that manufacturing the “tools” to infringe copyright circumvent access or copy protection mechanisms (thanks Jonathan) was also against the law. Napster was shut down, Jon Johansen was arrested (charged, and later acquitted) and anyone involved in facilitating the distribution of content was living a life of fear.

Fortunately in Canada, we’re a bit more sane when it comes to copyright law. The Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that Internet service providers were not responsible for copyright infringement that merely passed through their servers.

It’s also hard to prove that, just because someone’s photocopying a copyrighted work, they plan on selling it or redistributing it to others against the law. (For that matter, do people still infringe copyrights using photocopiers for anything other than university textbooks? It seems so 10-years-ago.)

Michael Geist, naturally, has some brief thoughts on the matter. He agrees Access Copyright has a very big hill to climb to make its case. (UPDATE Nov. 19: Now that he’s seen the suit, he sees it as a “sure loser”)

Insanity = genius

Frankly, I welcome this lawsuit (though I think it would be better to see it in the U.S.). Courts can’t simply rely on the fact that Napster was so obviously profiting off copyright infringement to set the bar for these kinds of cases. The slippery slope has to be travelled until they realize that tools that can be used to do illegal things should not themselves be illegal.

At some point, jurisprudence will have to live up to the fact that we’ve already passed reductio ad absurdum.

The penny isn’t free

You know, I thought our government had some common sense when it came to copyright and intellectual property laws.

BoingBoing and BlogTO point to a complaint from the City of Toronto’s One Cent Now campaign for getting one cent out of the six-cent-per-dollar GST to be given to cities. Apparently the Royal Canadian Mint considers the design of the penny and the words “one cent” to be its property and is charging the campaign over $47,000 for the right to use them on its website.

Because the Mint is a crown corporation and not government directly, it can own intellectual property and charge for its use, even when that property is literally in the hands and pockets of millions of people.

In the U.S. and other countries, they don’t have this problem. Unless an image on a coin was licensed from an artist (say, it was a portrait of Elvis or something), it’s considered public domain and people can use them as they wish (so long as they’re not counterfeiting).

Even if the Mint is right in asserting its control over the image on the penny (and I don’t think it should), its request is ridiculous. No one will mistake the One Cent Now site for that of the Canadian Mint, and they’re not selling T-shirts with the penny on them. It’s political speech, and they’re justified in calling this a slap in the face.

UPDATE (Oct. 9): Datalibre.ca makes the case that even if the image of the penny was subject to copyright, it expired years ago.

Copyright infringement isn’t ok just because everyone else does it

Andy Riga (yeah, he’s still blogging) mentions a tiff that’s developed between La Presse and the website Le Québécois. The paper has sent the website owners a lawyer’s letter demanding that La Presse articles be pulled from the site because they infringe on the paper’s copyright.

The website’s response is an angry “screw you!”

Since I just looked at when media violates your copyright, it seems only fair that we take a look at the reverse, and how equally stupid the excuses are.

As Andy mentions in his blog, copyright infringement through the posting of newspaper articles on websites is a huge and probably unsolvable problem. It happens all the time by people who either don’t realize they’re not allowed to do it or who know that the newspaper isn’t going to waste the effort going after them.

Usually, it’s fairly benign: Someone who was featured in an article posts it to their personal website so their friends can be mesmerized at their 15 minutes of fame.

But Le Québécois was doing it to a bunch of articles, and acting almost as an unlicensed syndicator of La Presse’s content. And because Le Québécois has commercial interests, La Presse felt they needed to act.

The organization’s responses don’t hold much water (especially since they freely admit they’re violating the paper’s copyright):

  1. La Presse is rich. This is an ad hominem attack and has no bearing on the argument at hand.
  2. La Presse (which publishes “propaganda”) doesn’t like us because they’re federalist. Ditto. And if you hate them so much, why are you posting their articles?
  3. These articles are “all over the Internet”. An exaggeration, I think. But either way it’s irrelevant. If you murder someone in Iraq, it’s still murder, even if everyone else is doing it. If you loot a Wal-Mart after a hurricane, it’s still theft, even if you’re just part of the mob.
  4. There’s an unwritten custom that allows articles to be posted if they’re credited. Well I can’t exactly argue with an imaginary rule, but I’d argue that the custom involves using excerpts of articles and linking to the full text where possible on the paper’s website. I don’t see any professional blogs or other websites posting complete articles without getting permission first. Besides, agreements aren’t agreements unless you reach them with the copyright holder.
  5. This is an attack on freedom of expression. No it’s not. You can express any opinion you like. You can quote from the article, comment on it, call it names. You simply can’t violate someone else’s copyright.
  6. We’ll never cite La Presse articles again! OK. You have fun with that.

The Internet has turned everyone into a media publisher. And while the financial barrier to entry is incredibly low, it does mean that people have to brush up on basic facts of copyright (and libel) law.

Nobody gets a free ride on copyright. Big or small.

Big media is stealing your photos

Local blogger Julie Belanger is peeved at 24 Heures. They published a photo of hers, without permission or credit, to illustrate a story.

It’s the kind of stuff you expect from amateur operations. Do a Google Image search and copy whatever looks good. Take a stock photo from Getty Images or iStock without paying for it. Or just go on Flickr, ignore the copyright or copyleft notices and use a photo for commercial uses, with or without attribution. TVA isn’t above it.

What makes this case interesting is the response she got from the editor: The photo was sent along with a press release, so they’re not responsible.


Whether or not this was done (the organization that sent it denies that any photo was attached and the release on Telbec backs them up), it’s the newspaper’s responsibility to ensure that photos and text they publish are not protected by copyright. Just like you can’t get away with having stolen merchandise just because you bought it from someone dirt cheap in good faith, you can’t simply pass the buck on copyright infringement.

If the organization sent the newspaper a photo and made it clear that there was no problem publishing it, then the newspaper should sue the organization and the photographer should sue both.

Sadly, because these photographers don’t have copyright lawyers on retainer, big media can simply screw them over.

The TVboxset.com scam

This story from this morning’s Gazette is hilarious. Apparently customers are complaining that they’re being ripped off by Montreal-based TVboxset.com, which has been promising them great deals on DVDs of TV shows, and then never delivering them.

What’s interesting is that those who do get the DVDs delivered quickly find out that they’re low-quality pirated versions recorded straight off of cable (they even have the network logos in the corner).

A quick scan online shows plenty of other people with similar complaints. In some of them, a representative of the company responds with a form letter about “misplaced orders”, but never answers the charges of blatant pirating.

The article quotes him as saying they “buy bulk and resell”, and that they don’t verify stock before they send it out. As if any idiot couldn’t spot such obvious fakes from a hundred feet away.

Garcia Media Group, which owns the website, isn’t under investigation by the Quebec consumer protection bureau, because apparently nobody’s complained to them yet (isn’t bureaucracy wonderful?), the Better Business Bureau can’t do anything because the company isn’t a member, and the police won’t say whether they’re investigating. Only Canada Post is looking into the matter.

Hopefully, unless the claims that this is all a smear campaign from a competitor are true (right, sure), this company will be quickly shut down and its owners prosecuted before they scam more people.

UPDATE (Oct. 7): Slashdot has a story on the lack of action in this case.

Plagiarism from those who should know better

Shouldn’t TVA know by now that grabbing whatever comes up under Google Image Search isn’t free for you to use as you wish?

TVA plagiarism

Apparently not. On the left here is a screenshot from a TVA news report. On the right is the photo they used, taken by a Montreal blogger who isn’t happy about it being used without his permission. (For those who think it’s a coincidence, check out the train in the lower right corner of the photo.)

Meanwhile, Canoe, the Quebecor-owned web portal, also used the same photo to illustrate a Journal de Montréal story (not sure if it was in the paper itself), though they credited the author, as if that somehow gives them free reign to use other people’s copyrighted work without permission or compensation.

As a freelancer, you can imagine how much this annoys me.