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March 16, 2005

Copyright Bull***t

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Posted by

Siva Vaidhyanathan @ Sivacracy, unearthing yet another demonstration of fair use dying a slow death:

Apparently Princeton Professor Harry Frankfurt does not understand his own job.

As a professor and author of the new book Bullshit, he has taken it upon himself to be a copyright cop as well. He sent a personal cease-and-desist letter to Paul Schmelzer, author of the brilliant and essential blog, Eyeteeth: A journal of incisive ideas.

Why? Because Paul quoted [a small portion] of his book. ...Here is text from his (copyrighted, of course) cease-and-desist letter:

Dear Mr. Smelzer:

It has come to my attention that you have placed a copy of my essay "On Bullshit" on your website. I appreciate the compliment. As you may know, however, the essay has recently been published as a book by the Princeton University Press. The management of the Press and I are concerned that your use of my essay may interfere with sales of the book. In any case, it constitutes a clear infringement of my copyright. I must ask you, therefore, to remove the essay from your website as soon as possible.

Harry Frankfurt

Now, I seriously doubt that Princeton University Press objects to a blogger quoting from one of their books for commentary or criticism. I would shudder to think that a major academic publishing house would be that ignorant of or hostile toward fair use.

In the spirit of using fair use before we lose it, Siva has some additional advice:

If you have a blog out there, copy and paste the exact text that got Paul in trouble. Post in on your blog. See what happens.

Better yet, someone at Princeton should scour Professor Frankfurt's body of work for his use of quotes from copyrighted material. Could he really have made a career without quoting?

Update (March 17): Confirmation @ BoingBoing that Professor Frankfurt had no intention of putting fair use under the crosshairs: "I have no objection to the excerpt from my essay that is presented [at Eyeteeth]. I apologize for any suggestion that you might have done something improper. Indeed, I am grateful to you for the honor that your attention to my work does me."

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use


1. Ed Felten on March 16, 2005 1:50 PM writes...

Perhaps what triggered Frankfurt's letter is the link, at the end of Schmelzer's blog entry, to a page containing the full text of Frankfurt's essay/book. Schmelzer's blog entry looks like fair use, but the full-text page looks like possible infringement.

Frankfurt may have jumped to the conclusion that Schmelzer is the person who posted the full text. If Schmelzer had done that, Frankfurt would be well within his rights to complain.

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2. Siva Vaidhyanathan on March 16, 2005 2:08 PM writes...

Paul Schmelzer says he linked to the original site for the essay, which I assume Frankfurt approved.

So I can't imagine that Frankfurt misunderstood that link.

Only he can say, I guess.

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3. Crosbie Fitch on March 16, 2005 3:11 PM writes...

The web archive needs a C&D too - they're still holding the original text here:

IP pirates the lot of 'em!

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4. Christopher Grau on March 16, 2005 3:21 PM writes...

I got the same email, for the same reasons. It appears that Prof. Frankfurt did mistakenly think that I (and others) were hosting the entire text. Either he isn't very web-savvy or someone else provided him with an incorrect list of email addresses. At any rate, when I explained the situation in an email to him, he offered a very nice apology, so perhaps folks shouldn't be so quick to assume he is evil...

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5. Crosbie Fitch on March 17, 2005 5:41 AM writes...

I suspect he's figured that copyright infringement claims are the new viral marketing tactic, i.e. if you want publicity and people to suddenly possess an incredible urge to obtain this forbidden work, first quietly publish it onto the web and then when enough people have linked to it remove it with a flurry of umpteen ridiculous C&Ds.

If you check the web archive, the full text has been published online since 2001.

Maybe this is a lesson for the music industry? Host artists' albums online for 4 years letting anyone download them, but still defend their copyrighted status, and then when you want to sell them, remove them from the web, and sue the living daylights out of anyone hosting them online, and send C&Ds to anyone providing links to them. Have a few spoof pirate sites that have an affiliated link to where you can buy the album via Amazon for those mugs who want to see what all the fuss is about...

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