FAQs: What's the big deal about copyright?

Why do you make such a big deal about copyright?
Why is copyright infringement a problem?
Aren't you overreacting?
But we got permission to use this material in our church bulletin!
Many writers tell us that they are proud and happy to see their material on our site!
What about "fair use"?
You must be making some money from this.

Just cut to the chase: I want permission to use something.

Why do you make such a big deal about copyright?

Most of the content published at cptryon.org is provided by religious who have given specific permission for paper-published content of theirs to be republished electronically at this site or who have created content specifically for the site. They or their religious congregations hold the copyright, in every instance.

After having been fairly relaxed about tracking copyright infringement on the Web, it became plain that content was being reproduced in many places without permission. Sometimes the content was attributed (meaning that the author's name was included); often it was not. The content never included statements of copyright and permissions, except when the entire page, illustrations and all, had been copied -- again without permission -- from the original Web page at cptryon.org

Why is copyright infringement a problem?

Here's why. The author researched, wrote, revised, and edited the content. Under law and in fairness, the content belongs to him. It is his right to decide how, exactly, the content will be used. When a Web site reproduces such material without permission, the Web developer has overridden the author's right to control use of his material. Under law and in fairness, that's not right.

We also discovered that when material appears on the Web with only the author's name, the author's name soon seems to drop off. In other words, the author may receive attribution on one site, but because the site includes neither statement of copyright (understandable, because site has violated copyright) nor permission (because the site did not obtain it), sometimes Web surfers simply will not see the author's name or will assume that it is all right to ignore it. We are not claiming that this happens maliciously or intentionally; it is simply what seems to happen on the Web, rather like earthquakes happen in California or heartburn happens after overeating spicy, greasy food.

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Earthquakes? Heartburn? Aren't you overreacting?

I don't think so. Here's what happens next.

The content is then passed along to other Web sites without attribution, sometimes with the statement that "copyright is no problem" (apparently because they obtained the material from a page where copyright is not explicitly stated, though of course explicit statement of copyright is not required) and at other times simply as an "author unknown" piece. In either case, the inference made by Web developers and other content users is that they are free to use the material however they wish. Some sites, enterprisingly picking up where they wrongly assumed the author had left off, now asserted their own copyright.

Some of the uses have included:

  • fund raising for causes the copyright holder would not endorse;
  • pages on which a Web site decides to put its copyright, even though that site does not have the right to do so, and the content has been sufficiently popular that the Web site has obtained sponsors for the page. Each time someone looks at the page online, the "sponsor" (really, the advertiser) pays a little bit to the Web site. Earnings from each page view go to that Web site, with the author and his religious congregation (neither of whom are acknowledged) receiving nothing;
  • commercial uses, where Web sites have taken prose and poems to provide adjuncts to their advertising copy for art or floral items for sale. The author and his religious congregation are unacknowledged and, of course, uncompensated;
  • presenting the material in content to which a new author asserts his ownership and for which he is paid; again, by now you know that the true author and his religious congregation are unacknowledged and uncompensated.

Off the Web, we know that preachers occasionally lift multiple paragraphs or entire articles for their sermons and do not cite their source. We know this because their parishioners, looking for more information after the sermon, run into the material on the Web and then email to denounce us for plagiarizing their pastor's work.

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But we had permission to use this in our church bulletin!

Some sites have included the material because they received permission many years ago to publish it in a church bulletin or other paper publication. But that permission of years ago for limited paper use does not include right of re-publication or electronic publication. The reasons for limiting electronic use should by now be clear. In any case, we have long since ceased granting such permissions; please see information about permissions.

Ten Big Myths about copyright explained
  • by Brad Templeton
  • easy to understand essay
  • up-to-date, helpful links

Many writers tell us that they are proud and happy to see their material on our site.

Great! If they're happy, we're happy for them, too. We serve the interests of our writers and artists -- our content providers -- by working to assure that their ownership of the work they entrust to us for Web publishing is respected in electronic publishing, just as it should be in paper publishing.

What about "fair use"?

Brad Templeton's article (linked above) looks at this idea. "Fair use" of our content is not what we're seeing.

You must be making some money from this.

Not a cent. All expenses for the Bread on the Waters Web Pages (all pages and sites hosted at the domain cptryon.org and a few other domains) are completely underwritten by a silent benefactor who, up to and including the current tax year, does not take any tax deduction for his contribution. He accepts no contributions or donations. I donate my services and receive no contributions, no donations, and no reimbursement of my expenses. If you doubt my word about this, take a look at the instructive story of Ananias and Sapphira, recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 5. A side note: the benefactor has expertise in the areas of international property law and copyright.

So why do it?

Because we want to. No other motive or purpose. But our giving freely does not mean that we will stand by idly when copyright is infringed.

Anything else?

The Web should stimulate creation and publication of original content. Recycling is no virtue on the Web. Link if you wish, but don't reuse material you come across. How about creating something of your own?

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Bread on the Waters Directory
first published on the Web 14 July 2002
© Bread on the Waters Web Pages 2002, 2007