But are they undermining free speech on the Net in the process?
This column appeared June 14, 2001, in the Online Journalism Review. Here’s the version on the OJR site.
By J.D. Lasica
If you’re like me, you probably feel a twinge of moral ambiguity every time you download a free MP3 file — say, the Vapors’ “Turning Japanese.” (OK, so maybe no harm there.) But what’s an ethically upright citizen of the Web to do when she comes across the curious little copyright icons and permissions notices that have begun to sprout at the bottom of various online publications?
In recent weeks, an increasing number of online news publications have begun featuring links on staff-written stories that grant instant reprint and permission rights — for a price. These online clearance systems permit a user to purchase the rights to republish a news story on another site, or e-mail a formatted copy of the story to groups of recipients, or print out formatted copies for personal or business use.
‘There’s a certain velocity with which information now moves in this society, and copyright protections curtail that free exchange of ideas.’ – Lee Tien, EFF
Anyone who has sought reprint rights from a newspaper knows that the process can be as pleasant as a tooth extraction. Like countless other reporters, I was once barred from photocopying my story clips at Kinko’s until I produced a note from the principal — um, release form from corporate. But what of copyright in the free-for-all of cyberspace, where Napster has fed our appetite for swapping files without conscience, much less with clearance from a controlling legal authority?
The Copyright Clearance Center wants you and me to know that the rules remain the same. “The Web loosened the inhibitions of people to borrow other people’s property, but that doesn’t change the law, which automatically gives you copyright protection the moment you produce a piece of content,” says Rick Miller, manager of market analysis for Boston-based CCC. Miller thinks people will warm to the Web-based system, which “cuts the approval time from two weeks to two minutes.”
CCC, which handles licensing rights for about 10,000 print publications, debuted its new online service in the New York Times in March and will roll out similar services on the Web sites of the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe this summer. (A precursor of the service can be seen on Dow Jones’ djreprints.com.)