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Ask Leo! & Creative Commons

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23 comments on “Ask Leo! & Creative Commons”

  1. Although for all practical purposes you’re of course right to use the existing legal system (no matter the low opinion I have of it) to protect what one can assume some natural rights, I do see a problem of principle.
    Indeed, when an engine contacts your web server, it is at no point “breaking into a system”: the reply it gets from sending a totally legitimate request is given totally “for free”. When sending that contents, at no point the engine is required to agree upon any contract or whatever: the content is packed by your server, and sent off to the engine contacting your server for free. No human needs to look at that content, and no human certainly needs to look at it, formatted in a very specific way.

    What essentially happens is that an engine sends an HTTP request (perfectly legally) to your server, and that server starts to send a whole bunch of information back, without that engine agreeing on whatever terms. How could you hope for that engine to abide by your terms of copyright then ?

    Suppose that I have written a system that crawls the internet, and recognizes every form of help on computer topics, from fora, web sites, whatever. It crawls like the google engines crawl the net. Next, a sophisticated algorithm sorts out all the received information (text, images, movies….) and compiles it into some kind of comprehensive “world library” of help on computer topics. Suppose that I ask money to access that library. At no point nor me, nor my engine, agreed upon whatever copyright, and at no point my engine broke in to any system. At no point, my engine faked an account on a system, or typed in passwords or the like. It only emitted HTTP requests, and got in return a lot of information back. How can one limit the use of that freely sent information ?

    I can assure you that I’m not doing that, not planning to do that, nor even have any idea how to do that, but as a matter of principle, the question is there.

    Shouldn’t you put your content behind a password access (even freely given out) after making people agree upon “terms and conditions” in order for you to be able to impose any kind of right upon the content your server is now freely and without any condition sending to any HTTP request ?

    BTW, I think that the CC license is a great license, because its aim is somewhat similar (although much less severe) than the GPL: making sure that what was once public, will remain freely available, and that nobody is going to make money on your back with your contents. But I wonder how one can even hope of imposing any contractual terms if it is openly available on the internet without any password protection.

    • The answer to that one is easy. The people operating that website would be breaking the law and would be as open to a lawsuit as anybody who does it manually. If you are compiling information automatically, the burden of determining whether the material is copyrighted falls on you. The operator of that site would be obligated to assume any material copied is protected, unless they can determine otherwise.

      • And, of course, pretty much all web content is copyrighted – even this comment. Unless work is explicitly granted to the public domain, it’s protected by copyright law.

        • It must be no wonder that I didn’t get a passing grade for my “intellectual property law” course exam :-)

          But indeed, I vaguely remember something that copyright is granted automatically.

          Which means that if we apply that logic to the end, I’m not supposed to describe orally any scenery I ever saw where any product of a human being was visible (say, a road or a car), because that part of the scenery has automatically granted copyright to who-ever possessed that object, or created it. And by telling orally what I saw, I’m divulging a kind of copy of that contents in a verbal way one way or another. Never could wrap my mind around such things, which lack logical consistency to the end.

          Policeman: “what did you see when you were walking down the street at 8 PM yesterday evening ?”

          Me: “Sorry can’t answer. My description would be a copyright violation to the owner of the stone wall I saw and of which I cannot give any more details of course. I cannot copy and divulge the contents he provided with the shape and color of that wall without his written consent”


          • It is actually no joke. I really failed my IP law exam (many years ago now). The only exam I ever failed in my whole life. Didn’t stop me from getting my degrees, but it left a scar on my otherwise sublime personality :-)

            Because I really couldn’t wrap my mind around the principles of it, without running into blatant contradictions like I mentioned. But law mustn’t be like maths or physics, I guess. Logic must be fuzzy in these matters, and the desired outcome must validate the deduction, instead of the opposite I’m used to (the deduction validates the outcome). The hard part was to explain the existence of the difficulty to the professor, who didn’t even seem to understand the problem. Like here, visibly :-(

    • The search engine doesn’t provide its user with a complete copy of Leo’s article only an excerpt, which is legal. If you want to see the whole thing you click on the link at the search engine and view the information which is provided by Leo’s server not the search engine. You may view it and make use of the information for your own benefit just as you can the instructions in a book you purchase but you cannot otherwise legally use it except for those things specifically allow under the terms Leo has stipulated.

      • Actually you can often get full copies (or nearly full copies) of web pages from Google’s cache. I also don’t disallow the Internet Archive from caching my content. That still doesn’t imply any release of copyright, and if I wanted to I could disable both. I choose not to since both of those services add value to the internet in interesting ways.

  2. “Creative Commons” ultimately ends up being just another tool for people who are either thieves or just stupid. Like those folks on sites like YouTube and who think it’s perfectly okay to post an entire copyrighted movie as long as you label it “fair use.”

    • What you are mentioning is copyright violation in general. Those videos in YouTube are in most cases fully copyright protected material, and have nothing to do with Creative Commons. Creative Commons is also a fully protected copyright which spells out who can reprint or redistribute the content without further permission. Abuse of this material is happening regardless of how the material is copyrighted. As for claiming fair use on copyrighted material, it simply a baldfaced lie.

    • ‘“Creative Commons” ultimately ends up being just another tool for people who are either thieves or just stupid.’ – Not at all. CC licenses simply enable a content creator to specify the ways in which other people can use their work.

    • Well, I think you’re misunderstanding what “Creative Commons” is, though I sympathize with your frustration over copyright thieves. An acquaintance has had one of his father’s books taken down at three times. The book is very much under copyright, and is far from being old enough to have fallen into the public domain. The explanation he’s been given by is that they operate under the assumption that anyone who posts anything there has carefully and thoroughly investigated the copyright status of whatever they’re posting and knows that it is in the public domain. Either that, or they assume that person has legal clearance to post it there. It all seems terribly backwards to me. If you’re going to post a book or movie or recording online, the obligation to prove that you have the right to do so should fall on you. It seems backward for the copyright holder to have to prove that the poster, does not, in fact, have the right to use the material. And yes, “fair use” is terribly abused on these sites. Feature length motion pictures, television shows and books, all very much under copyright, all show up at these type of sites, placed there by people who seem to think it’s okay as long as you slap “fair use” on it.

  3. I love your news letter, and learn a lot from it. I run a computer group on Facebook, and regularly share your articles there. Quite often , they answer questions that I cannot for people. Thank you for all the work, and knowledge you put into these articles.

  4. Thank you Leo for all great service you provide. Just remember President Harry Truman’s slogan, “Don’t let the B——- get you down. ” Thanks again

  5. Hello from UK
    Many thanks for all your helpful guidance on topics that I didn’t even contemplate.
    I feel that you are just like putting an arm around a buddy
    Cheers, John

  6. Leo,

    if worried about backup, the cheapest quickest is to not put on computer but hard copy and surface mail


  7. I’ve sent your link via e-mail to others at various times.

    I’m so glad you’re protecting yourself since there exists many (the younger generation ?) who either never learned to give credit to others or just don’t care to so do – a very sad commentary on what’s happening today.

    Here’s hoping that you’ll continue to spread your good tips on this amazing media; and without any problems from the inane,

  8. Our senior computer club in a retirement park has around 470 members who are becoming quite sophisticated users thanks to our continuing educational efforts and through our recommendations of articles and tips from sources such as Ask Leo!. If we want our members to learn about a specific topic, and Leo has addressed that subject, we usually just provide a link in our newsletter to the article so our members can read it themselves. I know many have subsequently subscribed to Ask Leo! for themselves.

    Occasionally, we have used Leo’s articles as an idea source for our own adaptation more specific to our members’ needs or our recommendations. In these instances we would always provide reference to Ask Leo! as the idea source for our discussion or refer to his article if it served a broader purpose.

    Thanks for helping our club grow in knowledge and understanding.

  9. I’m currently a student at a community college, and attribution is emphasized greatly, especially when it comes to reports and whatnot. I just created a web site for one of my classes last quarter, and I made sure I gave credit to everything I used. While looking for content, I saw some that I had to pay to use or just simply wasn’t allowed to use. I looked elsewhere. One site wouldn’t let me right-click and download content, whether it be pictures or text.

    One report I did over a year ago was something that I shouldn’t have done. I used Wikipedia for a general idea, but I went to its sources. I did a terrible job rewording the text. This is what I get for waiting until the day before it’s due. Anyway, the paper was graded worse than what I thought it deserved. I did site my sources, but I also used the same words the texts used. This is something I should have known already, but I got lazy and procrastinated and paid for it. The paper dropped my grade from a B to a C. Ouch.


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