Copyright Does Not Mean “Right to Copy”

Earlier this week I had a shock when Google Alert sent me the latest news on our name. An author whose book had been favorably reviewed recently had copied the entire page on which the review was posted and pasted it (including the writer’s bio) into her blog. Minus the formatting, every single part of it was there.

I get it. She was excited. The review was outstanding. It will bring some attention to her book. But her willingness to steal our property in its entirety astonished me. Then it made me mad.

This is not a good thing.

Reviews of books, movies, theatre productions are often used in promotion and marketing. How many times have you seen sentences but more often phrases and words that praise or appear to praise—ellipses can work wonders—the referenced work? A lot. It’s impressive for a publisher to be able to say the New York Times loved the work, but they don’t use the entire review. The reason is copyright. The original article belongs to the publication or writer. It is as much theirs as any physical object they own.

So why then do some authors, most of whom I am sure would never steal material from other writers, feel that using a review is not really intellectual theft? Because it’s a review? Because it’s about their book? Because it’s not “real” writing. (If reviewers could really write, why would they write reviews of others’ material?)

I believe that this kind of thing happens for several reasons. But the most important in my opinion is that reviews are not perceived in the same way as other types of writing. Nonfiction demands (ideally) good research and factual accuracy. Literary fiction requires characters that engage the reader. Commercial fiction is plot-driven. But what are book reviews? Just someone’s opinion? After all, anyone can put up a “review” on Amazon, right?

That makes me cranky. Leaving aside book criticism, which is a highly specialized form of writing about books and difficult to achieve, writing reviews is or perhaps I will say it should be a written art form that demands curiosity, a background in literature, and the ability to explore a book in depth with an eye to its role in its genre and sometimes within its author’s oeuvre. So why is it accorded so little respect? And why is a review not viewed with quite the same perspective as other intellectual property?

I didn’t wait around to answer my own question, which was rhetorical anyway. I promptly sent a stern e-mail to the author (and copied the publisher) stating that our copyright had been violated and requiring that the piece either be removed or edited back to what could be considered “fair use.” The author contacted me within an hour, and was apologetic. She cut it back while providing a link to the full article so this particular problem has been resolved. But the question still remains.

Two of BiblioBuffet’s writers are authors. The rest love writing about books. Just because they write about others’ books rather than write their own does not mean their work is less deserving of respect than the books they are reviewing. Novels, nonfiction, poetry, short stories, essays, op-ed pieces, magazine and newspaper articles all have their place in the world of writing and reading. Not a single part of any of them deserves to be stolen by another writer regardless of the reason—and that includes promotion and marketing. If we at BiblioBuffet enjoy your work and say so, then quote us. (We love that!) But do it within the bounds of copyright law and respect for our work. You worked hard on your book. We work hard on our reviews. It’s a two-way door, and no one wants it slammed in her face.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Copyright Does Not Mean “Right to Copy”

  1. Thank you for this post. It made that whole concept of intellectual property and copyright suddenly make sense. With all the turbulence about erights and disclosures this past year I’ve been befuddled about what I can actually post on my blog. At one point I was wondering if I would have to put footnotes for research links into my novel.

    I’ve followed your blog since Janet Reid posted about it, and appreciate what you do. This post clarifies so many of the layers within story and publishing and marketing!

    I also feel good because everything I mention on my blog includes a link to the actual source. I’m glad you got mad. I learned something.

    • Thank you, Therese. Copyright can be confusing but there is good information at the U.S. Copyright Office. Quoting is fine as long as you stay within the bounds of fair use, but using an entire article is not.

      Thank you for your kind comment. And I wish you the best of luck with your novel!

  2. As always, this is very helpful info. Trying to find out more about this part now. “Google Alert sent me the latest news on our name”

    • Sean, Google Alert is a way to learn when a search term you designate (in my case, “BiblioBuffet”) shows up online. Google sends me an a-mail when it does so I know when it is mentioned and can go and see it.

      You are welcome for the information. I did check it with one of our contributors, David Mitchell, who just happens to be an IP attorney, though he is not BiblioBuffet’s attorney.

  3. Anne

    I can understand your, ire, Lauren. That being said, would not your ire been better served by sending an e-mail to the author and request some acknowlegement that the “blurb” (be it large or small) came from Bibliobuffet??

    There is nothing on the site that I’ve found that’s obvious that says “please ask permission to use” or any of the standard quotations most sites use. For some folks, you can’t just leave it for them to understand intellectual property or other finer points of the law – you have to state it.

    Other than venting your spleen, I can’t see where you gained anything by such a rant. Now, if you actually did follow up to the acquisition of your site being quoted inappropriately with correspondence and that site/author still disregarded your request, then a rant seems entirely reasonable.

    Since your comment hit the board – has said author amended their site and acknowledged the rights of Bibliobuffet in the matter AND acknowedged their faux pas?

    Sign me curious.

    • Thanks for your comments, Anne. You make good points.

      As I stated, I did contact the author in a professional manner. No rant, a request, albeit a sternly-worded one, to either remove the entire piece or to cut it back to what would be considered “fair use” was requested. She had linked to the original article, but she also copied it. A link does not vitiate her violation of copyright. However, when I notified her, she did as I requested and added an apology. That was sufficient.

      Authors and writers should understand copyright. To not understand it is to be ignorant of an essential part of creating work. You are right in that it would be best to state it on the site, but the law does not require it be stated. Copyright is automatically granted once something is created.

      On BiblioBuffet’s home page the copyright notice is clear. On the blog it is missing I do, however, have something I want to post. I am now looking to add it (though it has become a technical matter since I haven’t yet discovered how to get it to go on the side near the top).

  4. Hi Lauren-This is an important issue, and I try to be really careful about it, especially on my blog. I understand about a whole article, but I’m not clear if I’ve violated Bibliobuffet’s copyright by posting what you wrote about Catching Days on my Updates page (july 7 if you want to make sure it’s okay) with attribution and a link. I’m happy to apologize and remove if you’ll let me know. Thanks for the post~cynthia

  5. You know it’s posts like this that can definitely spur people on to master about this. I found it to be overly informative. I will be coming back here for more reading as I much enjoyed this!

  6. Wow. Thank you for this post. It gave me some info… and also kinda sorta fueled my anxiety about sharing my work. All in all, thanks. 🙂

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