This is why we shoudln’t ask permission so much when it comes to copyright

Hathi Trust logo

Hathi Trust logoI’ve participated in several online discussion recently over some copyright questions. Almost every time, the question involves something generally innocuous, but the person isn’t all the sure if it violates copyright or not. Generally I respond with something along the lines of “go for it. If you’re asked to stop, then decide whether to fight or stop. And ultimately, the chances anyone even noticing, let along suing you, is minimal at best.” To which, someone else replies “Oh noes! Better ask for permission first!”

I’m not talking about situations where there is a clear cut copyright violation here. I’m talking about taking photos of artwork (clearly legally owned by the library,) hanging on the library walls and posting those photos to the library’s flickr account. Sure, I suppose technically there may be a copyright violation in some esoteric way, but let’s just use some common sense here.*

What upsets me the most is what Cory Doctorow calls our “permission based culture.” The idea that in order to do anything we need to get someone’s permission first. Even if what you’re doing is obviously fair use, once one person asks permission, it will be expected that all future people must therefore ask for permission and that slowly erodes our rights as the users of culture.

Which leads me to yesterday’s ruling in the Hathi Trust case:

The Library Copyright Alliance is extremely pleased with today’s decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust, finding in favor of fair use. The Library Copyright Alliance filed an amicus brief (PDF) in the case, supporting HathiTrust’s position and the lower court’s finding of fair use.

…The Second Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision, holding that the creation of a full-text search database and providing access to the print disabled constitute fair uses and such activities are thus protected under the Copyright Act.

Ok, sure, it took an expensive law suit, but if they’d asked permission first, what they’re doing wouldn’t have happened, and we wouldn’t know know that what they’re doing is fair use.

The bottom line: grow a spine people.

* The person who was asking the question eventually decided to ask their legal council. I’m hoping the lawyer in question will give them the go ahead. If they don’t, I offered to visit the library, take the photos myself and post them to Flickr under a CC license so the library could use them. Seriously, does anyone expect me to get sued if I did that?

June 11th, 2014 by