Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Copyright and Ownership Issues for Blogs

Hello all,
Recently someone had brought up the issue of "what the company you work for owns" in terms of "the work you do." My team member Anne forwarded me this very interesting post on her Bus-Lib listserv about blogs, intellectual property rights and copyrights. I think its valuable for us bloggers to know some of this.

The Editorial by Lesley Ellen Harris in Volume 2005,
Issue 1, The Copyright & New Media Law Newsletter,
deals with copyright ownership in blogs - it is
reproduced below. For further information on this
print newsletter, see www.copyrightlaws.com www.copyrightlaws.com/>.

Editorial - Copyright Ownership in Blogs

The Internet continually forces us to test the
application and flexibility of current copyright law
to new modes of communications and media. The Internet
has already spawned debate and lawsuits about
hyper-linking, P2P file sharing, and the removal of
copyright management information and technological
protections. A newer Internet activity, blogging
resulting in Weblogs, is now being discussed in the
copyright arena. A blog is basically a stream of
consciousness discussion available to the public at
large. Individuals keep these blogs on every topic
imaginable. Blogs are original material, and once they
are fixed in some form, saved digitally or in a print
out, they are protected by copyright in most countries
around the world. In fact, they would be protected for
50 to 70 years after an author's death - much beyond
the life of any blog itself.

Blogs are becoming more popular amongst professionals,
and certain employees are even encouraged to create
blogs based on their work. This raises interesting
issues concerning copyright ownership in the blogs. If
an organization requires blogging as part of the
duties of an individual, it is likely that the
employer owns the content in the blog, just like the
employer owns other copyright-protected works created
by that employee in the course of employment.

However, if the blog is initiated by an individual
though it may discuss work-related issues, outside the
scope of his employment, who owns the content in the
blog? This is comparable to the situation where a
professor writes a book related to, but outside the
duties, of his instruction. This is often a gray issue
in the academic world. University policies that
specifically deal with such issues can help clarify
the situation. Also, a professor approaching his
university prior to writing the book, may be able to
clarify the situation, prior to a confrontation.

Many companies have yet to develop Weblog Policies,
similar to their other integral policies. Thus,
employees who discuss work-related activities are
generally held to the rule of "good taste" in their
discussions, and of course, not spewing any
confidential information. As is the case with many
Internet-related activities, would a written Weblog
Policy contradict the free flowing nature of
information in a blog, and perhaps weaken the
effectiveness of these blogs?

With ownership comes the issue of who may authorize
reproduction of the content in a blog. Generally, only
the owner may authorize others to reproduce a work.
Would this be an organization or an individual? Or
should the whole notion of obtaining permission in
relation to blog content be mute, since the whole
point of the blog is for as many people as possible to
access and read it? The blogs by Sun Microsystems
employees at blogs.sun.com take what I call a
compromise position. These blogs are subject to a
Creative Commons License. Thus, the blogs are
protected by copyright, however the rights are
conveniently set out in a hyper-linked license and are
broader than those rights attached to most
copyright-protected works.

To date, there are no lawsuits relating to ownership,
reproduction or re-distribution of the content of
blogs. This in itself may be helpful for organizations
and individuals who are determining "policies" in this
area. And for those bloggers who want their content
read as widely as possible, they are free to put a
statement on their blogs to the effect that the
content may be freely used without permission.