Saturday, October 6, 2007

Why You Should Respect Copyright Notices

If you steal materials from someone else and use it at your website, you might get away with it. It’s possible that no one will notice.

Even if someone does notice, you will probably just receive an email asking for its removal. If you comply with that request, nothing else will happen to you.

Even if you ignore that letter, you will probably just have to suffer a temporary take down of the offending page until you make requisite adjustments.

You probably won't be sued.

So, considering just how unlikely it is to run into life-threatening trouble from infringing upon someone else's rights, why should you care?

Let’s outline a few reasons why no one should intentionally act in a manner that infringes someone else's intellectual property rights.

Moral reasons. Most of us would agree that stealing is wrong. Regardless of our faiths and backgrounds, most of us accept the notion that stealing is immoral and is something we probably ought not to be doing. Infringing upon copyrights is a form of stealing.

It represents the theft of personal property in the form of an idea, writing or image. It represents stealing potential profit from the creator of the item in question by diluting its uniqueness and reifying a structure that allows for theft. If you infringe upon a copyright, you are stealing.

Social reasons. The idea that we should “do unto others” isn’t merely a moral consideration. It has real-world justifications.

So long as we respect the rights of one another, we can continue to function in a relatively well-organized and pleasant society. When property rights cease to matter, that certainly isn’t the case. Respect for personal rights is the glue that holds society together.

Risk exists. Although the risk associated with the use of stolen materials may seem slight, it is present. Its consequences can be high, in relative terms, too.

Stealing someone else’s copyrighted material may not land you in prison, but it can force you do deal with take down notices and other inefficiencies.

Additionally, if a lawsuit should be filed against you or other legal action taken, the consequences will undoubtedly outstrip the value of your misappropriation.

Basic risk analysis dictates avoiding copyright infringement. Even if the likelihood of a negative consequence seems slight, the potential impact is simply too great to risk.

There is also the very real risk that your identification as a copyright infringer could have horrible repercussions on your business and ability to socially engage others online.

It may not be a scarlet “A” across your chest, but getting the scarlet “circled C” on the chest of your avatar can be almost as bad.

In the end, we should recognize and respect the rights of others because it is the right thing to do. That should be enough of a justification.

Bill Hadley is the author of the Online Copyright Manual for Everyone!, available at

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