July 18, 2007

Mailing Lists and Fair Use

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In light of the question about when/if to share an email, I put together
a brief FAQ on copyright, netiquette, and fair use. I thought it might be useful to include here, in case other people wanted to use it. Please feel free to use this FAQ, so long as it is attributed to Ceffyl.

Brief FAQ on Etiquette for Forwarding Emails

Is it wrong to forward email from one mailing list to another? Doesn’t the fact that an email is posted to a mailing list imply the right to forward the content?

Yes and no. There are two issues here: author’s rights and implied consent to forward/archive email sent to a public mailing list.

An email contains the written copyrighted ideas of the author. Whether or not the item is formally stated as copyrighted, it is still considered the property of the author (see Berne convention, post-1989 (1, item #1; 2, 3, 4, 5)).

Copyrighted? It’s just an email!
That’s correct. Anything produced by an individual, whether published or formally filed with the copyright registry, is still considered automatically copyrighted.(1, item #1; 3)

If an email is posted to a public mailing list, doesn’t that make the
content public domain?

No. The content of the email still belongs to the author of that email unless the author specifically states that the email’s content is in the public domain.(1, item #3; 2) While it is okay to summarize or quote snippets of an email (if proper attribution is given), you should still use fair use guidelines and copyright law.(3, 4)

For the most part, the sampled copyright law-related sites said that emails are considered the copyright of the author. Most sites said to considered fair use guidelines and always ask permission — out of respect for the author if nothing else.(1, 3, 4) The Pierce Law (Franklin Pierce Law Center) had a slightly different take on things: An email posted to a public mailing list might have implied consent to share it due to the fact that it is a public mailing list.(2)

The Pierce Law site also suggested appending a copyright statement to the bottom of each email that specifically describes the copyrights which apply to the email (i.e., that the email can not be distributed beyond the mailing list’s membership without the author’s express permission).(2)

What is the problem with forwarding an email to another list?
Besides being a grey area in copyright issues, it’s not considered polite. General netiquette says to get an author’s permission prior to quoting or forwarding an email outside of the intended audience.(5) If the audience is a mailing list and you wish to share an email with someone not on that mailing list, ask the author’s permission first. An author’s membership on both lists would not imply consent. When in doubt, always ask for the author’s permission.

What is fair use?
Fair use means that you can quote certain amount of a copyrighted work without the author’s permission. There are guidelines and restrictions on use and when to ask permission. See several of the fair use Web sites cited below for additional information, especially the Stanford Libraries resource page.(6)

Cited Sources

1. Templeton, Brad. 1994, revised 2004. “10 Big Myths about Copyright Explained.” (Viewed 7 July 2007) See items 1, 3, and 10.
http://www.templetons.com/brad/copymyths.html

2. Field, Jr., Thomas G. Revised July 26, 2006. “Copyright on the Internet.” Pierce Law/Franklin Pierce Law Center. (Viewed 7 July 2007.)
http://www.piercelaw.edu/tfield/copynet.htm

3. U.S. Copyright Office, FL-102, Revised July 2006. “Fair Use.” (Viewed 8 July 2007) http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html

4. Tysver, Danial A. 1996-2007. “Fair Use in Copyright.” Bitlaw: A Resource on Technology Law. (Viewed 8 July 2007)
http://www.bitlaw.com/copyright/fair_use.html

5. Shea, Virginia. 1994/revised 1997. Netiquette. Albion Books. Online edition of the book. (Viewed 7 July 2007) http://www.albion.com/netiquette/book/index.html

6. Stanford University Libraries. 2003/2004. Copyright and Fair Use. (Viewed 8 July 2007) See the Fair Use FAQ and Copyright Basics FAQ.
http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/index.html

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