Copyright Ownership in Blogs
Editorial by Lesley Ellen Harris, Volume 2005, Issue 1, The Copyright & New Media Law Newsletter
© Copyright 2005, Lesley Ellen Harris. All Rights Reserved.
Used with permission.
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.
Lesley Ellen Harris teaches online courses on copyright and licensing. More information is at www.acteva.com/go/copyright or please email: firstname.lastname@example.org