Public Domain Web?

Copyright SymbolHeard a little snippet on the radio (NPR of course) on the way home about a lady who had written an article or perhaps it was a how to for a recipe. The content of her article appeared in a magazine by the name of Cook Source, giving her a full credit as the author. Trouble is, she had originally published the article on a website and had never granted any sort of rights to Cook Source to publish the work. When she called the publisher of the Cook Source magazine asking for simply an apology in print and a $130.00 donation to a writers scholarship fund (or something of the nature), the publisher said she should be grateful that they even bothered to put her name in the by line, as they got it from the web and everything on the web is in the public domain. I nearly choked and sure would have if I had anything in my mouth at the time.

Does anyone else see the problem here? Let us review. Public domain is a very special categorization in the realm of copyright law. Typically there are two ways to get there. The author or publisher (who ever specifically owns the rights) has given up the material rights to the work or the copyright itself has expired. Of course the expiration itself becomes tricky based on the country where the work was written or especially published. Even sticking to just the United States for this it then depends on if the work was published or not, if published it was done anonymously or not, and lastly, given the several changes in the law the specific dates it was either written or published. Generally speaking though, most modern works would be the life of the author plus seventy years or ninety-five years from publication date if since 1978. Interestingly though, Universal Copyright Code is only recognized for the life of the author plus twenty-five years or twenty-five years from publication. Copyright on photos is only ten years under the UCC. Even more interesting, places that officially do not protect intellectual copyright in any way include Afghanistan.

It is important to note, I am specifically addressing the idea of public domain in regards to copyright, which is only one way of protecting ones intellectual properties. Patents and trademarks, are both other ways of protecting ones intellectual property. They are much beyond the scope of my post here, but suffice to say you can not patent, trademark, or copyright the clear idea that is would be deemed common knowledge or anything that existed in some sort of public way prior to any such laws existing.

I am sure some are thinking that okay, but if published on say a blog, the author holds no copyright, correct? I mean, isn’t there some sort of official steps to actually copyrighting your works? Well, actually it is as simple as place that little copyright notice on your work. Technically it should include date, though a year is sufficient, the author or who owns the work, and the copyright circle C that we widely recognized. Given there were several years when the circle C was not easily created, a C in parenthesis, as (C) is accepted in at least the United States. Usually, if you have such and someone infringes, a simple desist letter will result in cessation of further infringements. To pursue further damages, I think I am obligated to tell you to refer to a lawyer, as I am certainly not an expert and without legal advise you may mess up things.

I will point out, if it ever came to a trial, the point of contention that someone could argue is that the had the idea or work before you did. With idea, in regards patents, while going through the process it was sufficient to mail a sealed envelope to oneself. The official cancellation would have a date that would stand in most instances in court. The idea of blogs and indeed the internet in general makes that concept not only impractical, but it is also easy to change publication dates in any sort of blogging back-end database. For that reason, I would suggest some sort of official copyright system – of which a couple of free ones do exist. Publications are generally sent off, an encryption code created, and the date stamp officially recorded.

Now, for a little bit of clarification, the usage of a small excerpt of the work for a review, academic work, and/or promotion is generally allowable assuming proper credit is given. However, any use of the work in a large way or as a whole would not be allowed without written permission. This would apply to derivative works like sequels with the same characters or turning a book into a movie or a play.

Quick Update:  For clarification and a total picture, the woman who has allegedly said that anything on the internet is named Judith Griggs.  While I specifically referred to her as the publisher, she calls herself the editor and is the principal operator.  I am not sure if that means owner or not, but if so, she is basically the publisher as well.  The writer, who has had her rights so clearly trampled by Ms. Griggs and her publication is named Monica Gaudio.  Apparently, this all bubbled over late last week and since has become its own story on the internet – which makes sense given the internet being a principal player in this ugly situation.  Since being brought to light the social aspect of the internet has kicked in to uncover several other writers whose work has been published without permission or compensation.  Additionally, the internet has found a list of advertisers and  made it clear that continued support of the Cook Source Magazine will result in a loss of business for the advertiser.

** – Image from, though I have serious doubts that they actually hold a copyright.

2 Replies to “Public Domain Web?”

  1. Thanks for the useful information. I’m doing a post late November about Copyrights, but approach it from the angle of copyrighting once’s novels and short stores. Posting (publishing) on the Internet seems so tricky when it comes to protecting your work. I always consider what I write on my blog as a free giveaway since it’s so easy to copy. However, I see your point. Fair is fair.

  2. Actually, just for clarification, copyright starts at the keyboard or with the pen and paper, and since March 1, 1989 no copyright symbol is required at all. The benefit of the copyright symbol today is that it can help avoid confusion among those who still assume that you need that copyright (c) to be covered.

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