From NPR, “The Day The Internet Threw A Righteous Hissyfit About Copyright and Pie,” re: online magazine Cooks Source and its editor’s horrendous misinterpretation of copyright and public domain restrictions.
This is how this magazine apparently did business for years — and that lends credibility to the idea that [editor Judith] Griggs may have honestly thought that she was allowed to just copy whatever she wanted from the Internet. Again, she was crediting the authors. Not always the sources, but at least the writers. It’s a weird head-fake in the direction of treating people fairly, which smells a little bit like — just as she told Gaudio — she actually thought this was fair.
Interestingly, the NPR story writer opts to conclude with the cautionary hypothetical on Internet mob justice rather than exploring copyright on the Web. Not passing judgment either way, as both are interesting, and I daresay that Internet mob justice is a phenomenon that hasn’t been explored as much as copyright has at this point …though that kind of makes it that much more incredible that the editor seemed to sincerely believe Internet = public domain.
In the copyright class that I took in spring 2010, we read a forum discussion among librarians discussing another librarian’s gaffe about rather the same issue (the discussion quickly turned from disbelief and sorrow to how librarians could be better educated through school and their workplace about copyright). I’m aware that the popular underlying theory is that “it’s easy so it must be okay”– click “download” to get a song, right-click/copy to get an image or text–underlying this mindset, but really? Really? Even now, in a day and age where you will actually occasionally see commercials on TV telling you that it’s wrong to download pirated songs and movies? (Ignoring for the time being that these commercials have all the class and scare tactics of an anti-marijuana advisory rather than anything even approaching education, but that’s neither here nor there.) How hard is it to get the message out there that things are copyrighted unless they say otherwise? Naturally there will be plenty of people who acknowledge that and don’t care, but still!
Of course, I’m sure that some of this difficulty arises from how copyright is taught in school (or rather, isn’t). At some point in our schooling, we’re expected to start doing research for assignments and to cite our sources. If you use it, cite it, and then you won’t fail the assignment/class/get kicked out of school for plagiarism/”academic dishonesty.” But in reality, simply naming the proper creator (as Ms. Griggs did, at least in this instance) is not enough to satisfy copyright limits. Yet this is generally the extent to which we learn about usage rights in school. I didn’t start learning about the Creative Commons or the nuances of fair use until I specifically started taking courses that covered those topics. I imagine that my experience is not far from the norm of others’ educations, though I at least opted to take classes that gave me broader exposure to the subject.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but there likewise shouldn’t be an excuse for this ignorance to persist, especially in this age of information and digital-everything.