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.

One thought on “Copyright infringement isn’t ok just because everyone else does it

  1. Jonathan Bailey

    Perhaps, next time they get stopped for speeding or some other petty crime they should try the “everyone else is doing it” excuse and see how thrilled the police are. That logic doesn’t work in any situation. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only one doing it or the only one getting caught, the results are pretty much same.

    Great article and good retorts!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.