"There are so many grey areas in Copyright Law that the publishing industry looks like a lint trap." -Peter Berryman
I had better start this thing by saying that I am neither a lawyer nor a copyright expert, although I know more about copyright than the man on the street. (I also know it's dangerous to be on the street. Get up on the sidewalk, man!)
Where was I? Oh, yes.
It happened that I was telling a friend of mine about a story I wrote many years ago, and I wanted to email her a copy. However, it turned out I had no electronic copy (it having been born several computer systems ago). Instead of digging up a paper copy to scan for her I thought I would try to find it on the web.
That may sound odd, but it happens that the original publisher (I will call them BuyerCo) purchased it specifically to run it on the web. I hadn't seen it on their website in years, but you never know.
was up on the web. Specifically I found it on the site of a middle school English teacher in another country. She had a unit about mysteries and she had chosen my story as an example.
Talk about mixed feelings. I was honored to have been selected, and pleased that students were reading my story, but had she put it up without permission? What exactly was that teaching the students?
The more I pondered the more entangled I got. After all, I couldn't exactly complain because my story was on the web. I had sold it specifically for that purpose! Maybe BuyerCo had a legitimate complaint against her (although I don't know what the fair use rules are for educators in her country), but they weren't paying me to patrol the web, were they?
After a long thinking session I sent a note that read pretty much like this:
I was surprised yesterday to find my story, "Title," on your website. While I am gratified to see students reading it, I am wondering who gave you permission to put it up for the public? I don't recall doing so. Perhaps it was BuyerCo, who has the right to publish it online?
In case you are interested, here is another story of mine, one that is available with no rights issues.
The link connects to "Shanks Holds The Line," a story I had given Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine permission to put on their website Trace Evidence.
I received a reply the next day. The teacher explained that she had retired three years earlier and had had no idea the webpage was still up at all. A colleague had sent her a copy of the story for use in her unit on mystery and she had no idea how/where the colleague had acquired it. She told me she had just spent an hour figuring out how to get into the software, found her password, and taken down the page. And she thanked me for offering a different story to use.
And so the story has vanished from the web once again, which brings up three questions:
- Am I better off because the story has returned to obscurity?
- Is BuyerCo better off because their property, which they have not used in years as far as I know, is once again hidden?
- And isn't copyright interesting?