Magazine article American Libraries

Internet Librarian: It Takes a Thief; Coping with Stolen Content. (Information Technology)

Magazine article American Libraries

Internet Librarian: It Takes a Thief; Coping with Stolen Content. (Information Technology)

Article excerpt

This month's column was prompted in part by a question posed to me by a Gentle Reader whose library has a very special patron who has copied the library's Web site and posted it on his own server with derogatory information plastered all over it.

The question was, "What is and what is not legal on library premises?" But the answer is both broader and more pointed. My personal recommendation is bellicose but effective: If people rip off your stuff, take them to court and make sure they go up the river. Show no mercy and no hesitation, I want to hear whimpering when the sentence is read.

As an information professional, it's your responsibility to do what you can to keep those miscreants from harming others. You need to do this not just on your own behalf, but on behalf of all the folks who are getting ripped off every day on the Web and may not always have the resources or awareness to fight back.

Content theft goes on much more than you realize (probably because most thieves don't do you the courtesy of tipping you off that they've stolen your content). One very well-known example of site theft happened repeatedly to a Civil War site (sunsite.utk.edu/civilwar/warweb.html) created by George Hoemann, assistant director for distance education and independent study at the University of Tennessee. Hoemann told me that the site had been stolen several times that he was aware of "and many more, I'm sure, that I'm not aware of."

The site launched in February 1995 and the earliest known complete copying occurred in April of 1996. "The most egregious example of this type of copying occurred in 1998--right as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was being debated in Congress. The culprit? A lawyer!"

Quite often the content is modified just enough to disguise its origins, and often it is never updated (thieves being by definition too lazy to create content, anyway).

Hoemann opted for a slightly less pugilistic approach than hauling folks to court. First of all, he told the lawyer that he had been breaking the law and to cease and desist. Sometimes you may be able to smooth out a little "misunderstanding." ("Excuse me--Was I supposed to pay for that peanut butter?") However, the lawyer had posted his own poetry on his site with a large copyright symbol under it, so he clearly knew better (even if they didn't cover that in law school). The lawyer never acknowledged he had done wrong, but after repeated requests he finally removed the content.

Or you could take the technical route. Aaron Dobbs, network services librarian for Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, used file permissions and other adroit technical sleight-of-hand to beat back people who were abusing copyright, such as a former lab proctor who "kept loaning and sharing MP3s on Napster on the proctor machine in our lab. …

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