Do as I say, don’t do as I do.
In response to the Phoenix editorial about the New York Times committing a copyright violation by posting a PDF of a 36-year-old newspaper article even as Op-Ed columnist Bill Keller blasts the copyright violations of others, Keller suggests that irony should be “[kept] out of the hands of the clueless,” but seems to be clueless that he’s committing a significant irony himself.
Keller writes that since the paper the article came from was long defunct without digital archives, he assumes the author of the article felt reposting the article “seemed a logical way to let today’s readers see Booth’s work and pay it homage.”
In my column and blog post I disparaged some of the recent attempts to expand copyright enforcement, and said reforms of the law should be focused on genuine pirates who profit by distributing films, music, books, etc. (sure, columns, too) that belong to other people. The law should not go after minor transgressions. Moreover, I specifically said a real reform should also relax some copyright protections – such as cases where a work that is long out of print could be made widely available to a new audience. Nowhere did I suggest that the law should criminalize the illustrative uploading of a 36-year-old alt-weekly article that is otherwise unavailable.
The thing is, the law currently does criminalize (or at least provide civil penalties for) posting someone else’s work without permission, no matter how old or hard-to-find it is. (Anyway, the New York Times does profit, perhaps not directly from the reposted article, but from posting content in general.) You can’t just ignore the law as it is in favor of what you want the law to be.
I would have thought a paper like the New York Times would understand that—it’s certainly quick enough to object when it thinks other people are ripping off its content! But Keller airily “leave[s] to lawyers—if any care to waste the time” the matter of whether the PDF repost broke the law at all. (Good thing Righthaven is on the ropes. It has spent its short existence suing people and blogs who did exactly the same thing as the New York Times just did—reposting copyrighted newspaper articles they found particularly insightful so members of their communities could see them!)
The irony is, of course, that a lot of pirates Keller rails against, who illegally repost the copyrighted works of others, do it for the exact same reason: the works are not currently available any other way and they want more people to be able to see and enjoy them. But they don’t have the clout of a huge organization such as the New York Times behind them, so apparently what is okay for the Times is verboten for them.
And as a final amusing note, Keller says that the Times “took down the PDF” when the Phoenix objected. Except it really didn’t—it removed the links to it from the articles, but if one types in the URL from the screenshot in the Phoenix editorial, the PDF still loads perfectly well (at least at the time I’m writing this).
Most of the comments on Keller’s rant don’t subscribe to his point of view either. One commenter summarizes his argument as “I want my copyright violations to be legal, and your copyright violations to be illegal, I leave it for the lawyers to explain why this is okay.” And another most insightfully points out:
What Keller either fails to understand, or refuses to understand, is that current copyright law is already used against minor transgressors. What he also absurdly fails or refuses to acknowledge is that his original rant was aimed at those opposing SOPA – an act that, if it was passed, would have made it legal for the Phoenix to demand without ANY judicial oversight that the nytimes domain be taken down!
in other words, the debate is not about Keller’s dream copyright enforcement, but about real copyright enforcement – both as it is now and as it is envisioned by players like the MPAA.
Indeed, there are too many insightful comments to quote. It seems Keller may not have an easy time finding many people who agree with him.
(Found via BoingBoing.)