My latest article for The Register is now online: “Copyfraud: Poisoning the public domain.” This is another classic example of my journalistic style, it took me nearly 2 years to get this article finished. I could write a whole book on this subject, but fortunately, someone else is already writing it. My article owes much to law professor Jason Mazzone, who coined the term in his paper entitled Copyfraud. Without his work, I would never have understood the nature of the problem. Now he is writing a book expanding on this article. I contacted him and his book, originally scheduled for publication this spring, is still being written. So now I don’t feel so bad, having taken far too long to write my own article. Great legal minds are still wrestling with the topic, and it is a rapidly evolving problem so it’s a bit hard to shoot at this moving target. New cases of copyfraud are being uncovered, and I regret that due to space limitations, I had to cut several great examples of copyfraud that deserved to be exposed. Each of those examples is worth an article of its own. Perhaps I will write a followup article.. in another 2 years.

3 thoughts on “Copyfraud”

  1. I read your excellent article in the Register, and wanted to say thank you for coining an excellent term. A desperately needed term that falls in a gap between current terms. Copyfraud is not infringement, since no copyright exists, and it is not plagiarism, since it is ownership rather than authorship that is being misrepresented.
    That said, I think you misunderstand the purpose of Creative Commons licensing, and draw an unfortunate conclusion from that misunderstanding. Using a CC license on my work does not grant any rights to the Creative Commons group. Rather, the licenses are boilerplate legal language provided for public use so that people may license their works without fear of mistakenly giving too many or to few rights to their audience. Therefore, the existence of a CC-PD boilerplate does nothing to help or hinder the existence of PD documents, and claims no rights over such works for CCg. Rather, it provides a succinct legal notice to explain Public Domain when distributing a public domain work. No more, no less.
    [Credit for coining the term, most likely, goes to Professor Mazzone, I believe I first heard it from him.
    I am aware that CC does not derive any rights of their own from the CC-PD license. However, it is exploiting the PD for their own purposes. CC seeks further power in administering rights. They could easily have pointed to the existing PD terms, rather than issuing their own license. By expanding the use of CC licensing, they further their own agenda. –Charles]

  2. What an utterly fascinating article. I write frequently about copyright and also by some strange coincidence, am a Hearn fan and I’m pretty sure I owned an old copy of the book you are referring to. (I believe I gave it away as a gift).
    The problem is legal fear/caution. Also, i doubt people can anticipate all the contexts/situations which might arise. It’s a matter of oversight catching up with technology (and greed).
    By the way, I greatly enjoyed the Michelangelo article. I was aware that some countries granted longer/perpetual copyright, but I didn’t know the Vatican faced that issue.
    I would love to see Bridgeman clarified sometime, but up to now there has never been a real challenge.
    By the way, you might enjoy my struggles in writing this article about public domain/Bridgeman . I’m no legal scholar, just an ordinary artsy guy like yourself. If you want to spot errors in my reporting, go right ahead.
    BTW, I have been trusting wikimedia common’s tagging about the copyright status of individual works. But really, who knows whether to trust this?
    (One reason for my interest is that I am constantly seeking public domain paintings to use as illustrations for my ebooks).

  3. Thanks for the good article.
    Do you have any thoughts on efforts like this:
    I was searching for a book that previously had been unavailable on google books (due to a fraudulent copyright claim), and then found it on google books, with the above folks the ‘publishers’. It looks like they ‘republished’ the work that had been before fraudulently marked as copyrighted (and only partially viewable).
    (the book is “Principia Discordia”, incidentally).
    The problems you describe are real, I wonder if there is anything other than legal battles that would help the side of reason.
    [I looked at your example of the Principia Discordia. Yes indeed, the Forgotten Books edition on Google Books bears a copyright notice and only appears as a “limited preview.” However, this may still not be copyfraud. What makes it copyfraud is when a false copyright claim appears on a public domain work. In fact, this volume could have a legal claim of copyright (it dates to the 1960s and at least one of the authors is still alive) although the authors appear to have waived their claim and encouraged free copying. The question is, does Forgotten Books pay royalties to the authors? If not, that would be a fairly conventional copyright violation, not a copyfraud of public domain works. The question is, did the authors place this in the public domain? If they clearly did, then this could be copyfraud.
    But to cut to the core of your problem, this document is available freely on the web, courtesy of the authors. Their website bears a copyright. –Charles]

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