Miss Snark is GUILTY AS SIN!!

I was wondering about publishing on the web in particular. Is something written on a blog, for instance, free for the taking?


You can't cut and paste something from a website and use it.
Ok, we all do it.
In fact, I did it below with the Caterpillar poem.
I didn't pass it off as my own, but still, it's a violation of copyright to do it.

Robert Bly probably isn't coming after me with a writ of seizure for my gin bottles and expensive poodle but he'd be within his rights to call me up and say "cease and desist, sister, if you know what's good for you". A snarl would probably accompany the threat.

Why won't he? Well, he's probably got better things to do, and he might actually think that posting the poem would be a good thing, and besides...he'd be hard pressed to prove actual damages.

That's the rub. Copyright is a civil matter not criminal. They don't haul your sorry ass off to jail for posting poems, they send the accountants and ask if you made any money, or cost them any money. If the answer is no to either or both, you're likely to get off scot free as a practical matter.

Morally of course, you're going to Hell. But that's ok, you can sit here next to Miss Snark, Mick Jaggar and David Bowie in the smoking section.


THRILL said...

Miss Snark, a while back you posted 'Dew', a poem by Kay Ryan, who I'd never heard of. I liked it--and wanted to read more of her work. My local library has agreed to order two collections, Elephant Rocks and Niagara River. Maybe a few more readers will discover her.

Yes, you're guilty, but Kay Ryan certainly got promo from it.

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, which may not be very far, there's this little old thing called "fair use," though how much is supposedly fair to quote is often debatable, relative and specific to the type (medium) of work in question, the whole work's length, etc.

Moi said...

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I thought that copyright was now a Federal charge (making it criminal), depending on the degree of the theft? It was part and parcel of the last update of the law to bring us in line with the rest of the world.

Or have I been sipping the whiskey a bit too much?

James Goodman said...

Just today, I was alerted that some kid in the Netherlands had copied a poem from one of my websites and claimed it as his own. I was more flattered than anything. He liked it enough to want to take credit for it. I wrote him a nice e-mail (Ok, I might have been a little snarky) and told him he could keep the poem posted, but had to list me as the author.

He complied and all is well. He even linked back to my website, giving me a little more traffic.

Nicholas Colt said...

Anybody got a cigarette?

Kitty said...

WHOA, MAMA! Did I read that correctly? Miss Snark in the smoking section?

Miss Snark said...

Don't get your whiskers in a tizzy Miss Kitty: everyone smokes in hell, it's a rule. Here at Snark Central, Miss Snark is smokin' but only cause she's working on hot deals. If you see actual smoke, you may assume she is on fire and take appropriate action.

occasional_anonymous said...

If everybody smokes in hell, there's no need for a smoking section--or, at least, no need to separate it from a non-smoking section.

Hey, look, I'm PAID to be this picky. You'll thank me when your book comes out.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Goody, that's basically what I did to the nearly 100 web sites that posted a short true story I wrote. Told them they could keep it posted, but they had to restore the byline since readers are important to most writers, especially those who are unknown like myself.

Bernita said...

Just curious, Goody, but how did you find out your poem had been lifted?

James Goodman said...

Dave, the readers are important to me as well.

I was sent a quasi anon e-mail from someone who happened across both sites.

Nicholas Colt said...

Does Heaven have a smoking section?

Maybe out on the patio...

Kitty said...

I'm breathing easier, MS :)

splashback said...

Miss Snark, copyright infringement can carry criminal penalties, but I completely get your point.

You're absolutely correct that quoting the copyright protected work of another without permission is always troublesome regardless of whether or not you identify the original source. For example, you can even name me as a source in your book in big bold italicized letters but if you use, say, 2 pages from my book in yours without my permission, I may sue you and I might win. Contrary to popular opinion, there's no benchmark (2 lines of a song, 50 words from a book) for what constitutes infringement. Courts use a balancing test to decide the issue.

Fair use is a legal defense to infringement lawsuits, so it's not something that can be decided with 100% accuracy before the use is made. But the question is will you be dragged to court? The copyright owner may never become aware of the quotation. The copyright owner may learn of the quotation but may choose not to sue, especially if the user has shallow pockets. The copyright owner may want to sue but may be convinced by her attorney that the likelihood of her prevailing against a fair use defense is slim. Also some copyright owners are notoriously litigious (e.g., Disney; the Plath estate; the Tolkein estate) but some are surprisingly lax.