Since we're frequently quoting, linking to, and commenting on someone else's copyrighted stuff, those of us who blog should have a strong interest in our copyright rights.

Ars Technica has a piece on overboard copyright clauses and a recent complaint to the FTC about them:

We hear and see the warnings whenever a football or baseball game is televised, whenever we read books, whenever we watch a movie. These are the sort of warnings that make claims like, "Any other use of this telecast or any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent is prohibited," despite the apparent wrongheadedness of the statement.

Should copyright holders be held more accountable for inaccurate warnings? In 2007, two different efforts to provoke change on the issue tried to force the issue. Both ended without success, even as courts have cracked down on some of the worst copyright overreaching by the leagues.

If you take the NFL warning literally, you're not even allowed to give an account of the game to your friends without NFL permission. The Ars Technica piece tells the story of a lawyer teaching a copyright law class, who, for the class, put up on YouTube a clip of the NFL copyright notice before broadcast at the beginning of the Super Bowl, something that was clearly fair use of copyrighted material.

The NFL got YouTube to take down the clip. The lawyer, Wendy Seltzer, filed a counter-notice (follow the link and create your own!) and got the clip put back up. At that point, legally, the NFL would have to sue if they wanted to keep pressing the issue. Instead, they sent YouTube a second request to take down the clip, which put the NFL "into the 512(f)(1) category of 'knowingly materially misrepresent[ing] … that material or activity is infringing.' And that would open the door for Seltzer to sue the NFL for filing improper DMCA takedowns."

In the end, nobody was sued, but it's an illuminating story. If you blog, it's worth learning a little more about your rights if you don't want to be rolled by overly agressive efforts to protect intellectual property. On the other hand, there is a risk - there is reason to be cautious if you don't want to spend money and time pressing the issue in court.

There is a lesson here though. While you probably don't want to be pushing the boundaries of copyright law unless you've got some legal muscle behind you, being aware of your basic rights is useful protection in the most egregious cases of overreaching.

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