Daily Archives: February 5, 2010

Vanishing online content; a copyright issue?

A recent post on “Techdirt” opens an interesting discussion.  The article reminds us yet again that internet is challenging the way copyright operates.  There can be a struggle dealing with literary works contained in a static medium such as a newspaper when that same material is available online — and this can be at odds with capitalising on the power of the internet when disseminating and retaining information.

The techdirt article uses the example of a page on The Guardian website where under the title of a historical item the following words appear:

“this article has been removed as our copyright has expired.”

The beauty of the web is that unlike a traditional medium you don’t have to rely only on today’s headline to bring in readers.  The archives can receive traffic as easily as the day’s headline.  And its bad form to post something, circulate the link and then remove that content.  This can lead future recipients of the link to find the content no longer exists. 

In fact, a useful method to adopt when quoting a web link in a publication is to include “last viewed on [insert date]” to cover this eventuality.  (This practice also has other uses such as ensuring that one could refer to the terms of use at the date of access should a dispute arise about this issue. This is because one copyright work could be subjected to different licensing terms by the owner of that work. )

As content providers we need to be sure of what we have before posting.  In a public sector environment such as ours we are encouraged to share and make all materials available to all.  Whilst law suits are an unlikely for us there are other responsibilities to consider, such as confidentiality, attribution, timing or simply common courtesy.  Far better to double check an author is happy for their work to be shared, than to post without permission and risk causing offence – whatever the copyright situation.  WARNING: Bad IP practice can lead to bad public relations!

(Thanks to Guat Hong Teh for her input to this post)