September 24, 2005

What, me violate copyright?

Not so fast, those who think I would violate anyone's copyright, let alone that of the excellent magazine The New Yorker. Look again at my post on incessant pointless barking. What did I do that could possibly violate copyright, as Heather Green seems carelessly to be assume I and other bloggers are doing? (She doesn't name me or Language Log, but she comments about "the copyright violation that's going on" as bloggers comment on the cartoon.) I put in a link to the cartoon in its original location among the assets of The New Yorker's cartoon library, where I found it by a simple use of their search engine. I made no copy. And I made no commercial use of the image (that is their business: you can get the cartoon sent to you on a T-shirt if you want). When you look at the relevant part of my post you're looking at the cartoon itself in its publicly accessible location, as the copyright stamp indicates.

All I did was to put <IMG src=...> in the HTML code that I wrote, followed by the URL at which you like anyone else in the world can look at the cartoon whenever you wish. If the owners of want to shut off access to the cartoon in question, which is up to them, the image will just disappear from my post the moment they change the location or alter the permissions on the file, and you'll see the broken-picture icon instead. I think people like Heather Green are a little bit confused about copyright law. It's no violation of copyright for me to point your browser to their freely available cartoon.

Now, I'm told that it's considered a violation of netiquette to link to someone's image without telling them: first, they don't know that their image is an integral part of the appearance of your page and they might not want it to be, and second, each time someone loads your page they snatch a tiny little bit of bandwidth from the server where the image is located. But this is an entirely different issue, one of small courtesies. And while it might be relevant for a file of elaborate graphics owned by a private individual paying for a home server, it's surely not relevant for images owned by corporations and held on huge servers specifically designed to deal with millions of hits day and night, hits that they want because that's how they get their business.

Now, if I put links to the whole free content of Business Week Online in a frame saying "Geoff Pullum Business News, where you can read Business Week for free!", and included a whole lot of advertising paid for by rival magazines, I can well imagine that I would get a letter from their lawyers asking me to cease doing this because it was unfair for me to in effect take credit for their content. But it wouldn't be a copyright case, I suspect. And certainly I wouldn't expect a suit if I just said you can find Heather Green's damn fine blog at Business Week Online and here is their logo (another image which is, like billions of others, open and accessible to anyone in the universe who has a web browser).

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at September 24, 2005 03:29 PM