Previous Next Index Thread

Cyberspace-Law #7-8: Copyright 6 & 7

 Cyberspace-Law # 7 and # 8, covering Copyright 6 & 7
    Email number: 7
    Date Posted: June 14, 1996, 6:40pm EDT
                     MAY *SOMETIMES* CREATE AN
                     "IMPLIED LICENSE" THAT LETS
                     OTHERS COPY
      You post something to a discussion list.  I quote your message
 in my response.  Have I acted illegally?
      Probably not, though your message is copyrighted, and I copied
 it.  Your posting the message to a discussion list almost certainly 
 gives others an "implied license" to quote it.  When a copyright
 owner acts in such a way that *reasonable people would
 assume that he's allowing them to make copies*, the law interprets
 his conduct as creating an "implied license."
      A familiar non-cyber example is a letter to the editor.  If I send
 the letter to the newspaper that starts with "Dear Mr. Editor," a
 reasonable person would assume that I'm allowing them to publish. 
 This is so because this is a *customary practice*, and because almost
 everyone knows about this custom.  So when the newspaper
  publishes the letter, they'll be protected by the implied license.
      A few more examples:
      *    Someone sends a personal message to one other person. 
           Reasonable people would generally not assume that the
           author is allowing the recipient to forward the message
           to others.  NO IMPLIED LICENSE.
      *    A newspaper posts something on its advertising-
           supported Web page.  Reasonable people probably
           wouldn't assume that it's allowing readers to forward it
           to news groups.  PROBABLY NO IMPLIED LICENSE.
      *    Someone sends a message to a discussion list.  It's not
           clear whether reasonable people would assume that
           they're allowed to forward it to other lists.  A lot might
           depend on the list's customs, and on whether the list is
           wide open or limited to only a few people.
      It should be clear by now that this is a VERY mushy test (a lot
 of law is, for better or worse, that way).  Fortunately, though,
 you as the copyright owner can make things less mushy: 
  Implied licenses can always be EXPRESSLY REVOKED, just
 by saying so in a way that potential copiers will see.
      If my letter to the newspaper starts with "Dear Editor:  Don't
 publish this," then I'm not giving the newspaper any sort of license. 
 Similarly, if my e-mail to a discussion group clearly says "Don't
 forward this to any other group," readers won't have an implied
 license to forward it.  If I were the lawyer for a newspaper that 
 didn't want its stories copied from its Web page, I'd tell them to
 put up a prominent notice about this.
      One more important point:  An implied license can only be
 granted by the COPYRIGHT OWNER.  If I post someone else's
 software (or even someone else's newspaper article) to a
 bulletin board, this doesn't give anyone the implied license to
 do anything with it.