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June 8, 2011
Vicarious Infringement in Corporate Settings
A Copyfight reader who saw my footnote about working at a financial firm sent me a pointer to a law.com article on Lowry's Reports Inc. v. Legg Mason Inc.
. This decision, which is now a couple of years old, sets an interesting standard for forwarding of copyrighted material within an corporate environment. Email makes this trivial, but in a word: don't.
The notion that sharing something like a copyrighted newsletter would be fair use wasn't accepted by the court, and interestingly the company (financial firm Legg Mason) was found guilty of contributory infringement - the same thing that P2P software makers have been found guilty for - because employees used company resources to email around copies of e-newsletters.
The article is pretty basic, spelling out everything from the definition of a copyrighted work to a definitional footnote on the fair use exemption, but still interesting to me. The company I work for doesn't produce research - an umbrella term in the financial industry for any sort of material describing a company, its products, its financial standing, and/or its expected future performance. Nor do we consume it, since we're not investing our own or our clients' money. But many of our clients do produce large amounts of research, and all of them subscribe to several forms of it. I imagine many of them would be surprised to read what was decided in Lowry.
Research producers have tended to follow models similar to software producers in dealing with clients - minor copying is generally ignored; egregious copying is discouraged or prosecuted as a last resort. And also like software, you can buy multi-seat or sometimes site-wide subscriptions to research that lets you sidestep the entire copyright question entirely. And like software, the research industry is at a loss to know what to do with the new modes of distribution such as e-readers, tablets and other mobile devices.
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