On Copyright and Commenters

This started with a Facebook link to a story about the North Jersey Media Group taking Sarah Palin and her political action committee to court over a copyright violation. Which is an important story, regardless of the politics.

But as I read down into the comments (I know, I KNOW – don’t read the trolls), I was reminded once again about the massive misunderstandings around copyright law that persist.

From a poster named “Pingston”:*

That photo is now in the public domain, as it should be. And the courts should affirm that. AP has said as much by calling it “iconic”. This story should be entered as evidence against this foolish legal action. ALL pictures shot that day and published anywhere should be considered part of the public record. The publisher should be made to produce a complete list of every written permission it has given in the past 12 years for that picture to be used. That can then be compared against the countless places it appeared. News photos, of a critical public news event, should not be subject to private copyright, especially a national tragedy.

The Ford Mustang is an iconic American car, should it be in the public domain and available for everyone to use at no charge? How about the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson? Should we all be able to land and take off on it? Should we all be allowed to pick up a copy of the Wall Street Journal and not pay for it? Should Casablanca be free at the rental shops? How about a Hershey bar?

The answer, of course, is no. There’s a stunning lack of understanding when it comes to the differences in how some perceive the value of tangible property versus intellectual property. The physical manifestation of the idea of the Mustang – the research, the design, the process of building it, the materials in it – are not different than the physical manifestation of the Thomas Franklin image in question here. He had to use skills and equipment that cost real money to create that physical, tangible image. That it is so easy to reproduce or of has become “iconic” is immaterial.

His company owns it, they get to decide who does and who does not get to use it.

Intellectual property is real and is protected.

Period. Full stop. That’s the law.

* Now, do we have the discussion about allowing anonymous commenters? How about the ones who demonstrate an inability to read and comprehend previous comments?

Mark E. Johnson

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