False Copyright Claims

July 14, 2007 | General | By: Mark VandeWettering

One of my personal pet peeves are companies that try to assert intellectual property rights over material which has entered the public domain. It’s everywhere: museums claiming copyright over photographs and scans of artwork, movie companies that tag public domain movies with copyright warnings, and even in copy centers which refuse to copy books which have entered the public domain.

Slashdot today had an article about False Copyright Claims, calling these actions “copyfraud”, and presenting a legal analysis of the practice and how it might be remedied. While I believe that copyright terms are too long, the ability to stifle use of public domain resources through this kind of intimidation is perhaps of equal or greater seriousness.

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Comments

Comment from Ethan Shepard
Time 7/15/2007 at 4:38 pm

The basic premise of this practice is simply this: if you claim some real interest – simply “claim”, mind you – in either copyright or patent rights (which are very easily obtained with a few bucks) then you have a “cause of action”. Whether or not there is absolutely any merit to the underlying claim is irrelevant. The intimidation of litigation – and its costs – are often sufficient deterrents. This is the way is works. If you have enough money, and “contacts” (the right “political” connections) it’s all good. Even if you have a legitimate claim, it means nothing without those other elements: cash, contacts, and connections. It’s a chimera. But then you knew that.

Comment from Kevin VandeWettering
Time 8/4/2007 at 4:32 am

I’m not sure that the situation is completely slanted in favor of people that claim illegitimate copyright.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridgeman_Art_Library_Ltd._v._Corel_Corporation

The Bridgeman vs. Corel case above shows that things that are public domain are really public domain.

This flies in the face of people trying to establish “licenses” in intellectual property that is actually the property of the public.

The state of things might not be as dire as this article states. Courts are starting to find the real law in dealing with these issues. Some of the intellectual property lawsuits over filesharing have left plaintiffs running for cover as they don’t want the way these cases have been decided becoming precedent.

Most of the people you will find claiming licenses in public domain works know their claim is legal voodoo. If they don’t, you can point them at Bridgeman vs. Corel.

I think this article may have been more cogent a few years ago. The way things are now, I think it would be much harder to bluff people into thinking you had a right to “license” public property.

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