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Editorial - Copyright Ownership in Blogs

(Cross-posted; please excuse duplication.)

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 <http:// 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 Microsystem 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.