New Stance on Blog Copyright Registration

Hey you! by QuinnDombrowski from Flickr

Hey you! by QuinnDombrowski from Flickr

Grrr . . . It seems like every time I call the Copyright Office with a question about blog copyrights, I have to change my stance on how and whether anyone should register their blog’s content. Mind you, when I wrote the Legal Side of Blogging last year, my research and ideas were approved by my cyberspace law professor and another internet/copyright attorney. We all got it wrong.

I used to think that bloggers should register their new content every three months because the Copyright Act says you’re eligible for statutory damages in a copyright infringement lawsuit if you register your work within three months of publication or one month of learning of the infringement – whichever is first. In a previous call to the Copyright Office, the representative said it was permissible to register all your content as one work and that subsequent registrations would be derivative works of the prior ones.

A few months ago I was informed that content that is only available online (including blog posts) doesn’t count as “publications,” so that rule about registering within three months of publication doesn’t apply. For unpublished content, you have to register you work prior to the infringement occurring to be eligible for statutory damages. If you wait until after your work has been stolen to register you work you can only collect actual damages, which will be low unless you or the person who stole your work has a financially successful site.

I called the Copyright Office yesterday and was told that you can’t register posts that are released on different days as one work (though my experience is proof that you can) and you can’t register the same post as an individual work and as part of a larger work, (though I think there’s some wiggle room here).

So here’s my new stance – registering your blog content is not worth it for most people. The exception to this rule is you might want to register your work if you think it will be stolen by someone who can afford to pay potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and attorneys’ fees. If you’re in this boat, or think you might be, you should submit your application to the Copyright Office before you release the post on your site to ensure that your application will be in before any infringement can occur.

This is more proof of how behind the times the law is and that you can’t apply logic to copyright on the internet. I think it’s moronic that online content isn’t “published” when it’s released on the internet. I think this definition will change in the near future with so many publications switching from paper to being online only. As the law is written and applied the law seems unfair because it makes it harder for online writers to protect themselves.

There is a special copyright registration for “serial works” but so far the Copyright Office says blogs, including those that are released on a strict schedule like other serial publications, do not qualify. I think this is wrong and needs to be challenged.

For now, I’ve added a disclaimer to my ebook on Amazon that states that the copyright registration chapter is inaccurate and will be updated this summer. I hope to add the revised chapter to the book in the next month once it gets through legal review and editing.

Maintaining Privacy with an Online Alter Ego

Paper Bag (#95734) by Mark Sebastian from Flickr

Paper Bag (#95734) by Mark Sebastian from Flickr

I just got back from the interactive track of South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin – the most amazing conference for all things related to social media. I attended as many sessions as I could but there were dozens of other talks I wish I could have attended. I came back to Phoenix buzzing with ideas.

I attended an interesting session by author/journalist Pernille Tranberg from Copenhagen. She co-authored the book Fake It! Your Guide to Digital Self-Defense.  She uses her real name on LinkedIn and Twitter, but she uses fake names on Facebook and for filling out forms online. She has two complete alter egos. Her friends know her fake name on Facebook but she generally doesn’t share that information with others.

In a world that pushes of online transparency, her ideas run in the opposite direction. This is a great tactic for people to use who don’t want everyone looking them up or if they want to have a private online life that is completely separate from their professional life. Having a fake persona makes it less likely that your boss or prospective boss will be able to find you on Facebook or anywhere else you use your fake name. Additionally, if your fake identity is ever stolen it won’t be devastating for you because there are no assets connected to your alter ego.

If you’re interested in creating an alter ego for yourself, check out Fake Name Generator. It will give you a name, address, email address, username, password, profession, and even information like height, weight, blood type, and mother’s maiden name.

Now, does using a fake name violate the terms of service of social media sites that require you to use your real name or have a policy against one person having multiple accounts? Yes. But if no one reports you, how will they ever know?

I also attended a session on Bullying: Social Media as Problem and Solution which featured Marta Gossage, community manager for Reddit. She spoke about how people are encouraged to use pseudonyms on Reddit and by doing so it allows people to share and connect with people in a way that they don’t feel comfortable doing in real life. She said it also reduces the amount of harassment because most people don’t know each other in real life and participants on the site are good at enforcing the ideal that they can attack an idea but not the person.

Marta encourages people to use fake names because it’s easier to share without fear of judgment when no one knows who you are and because it’s easier to delete a fake identity than a real one from the internet. This is particularly true for young people who don’t think before they post and may regret the things they post which might affect their ability to get jobs or accepted into college.

I have a friend who maintained two Facebook profiles during law school – one was under her real name that was mostly a placeholder in case a professional contact tried to look her up. The other was under her fake name where she was free to be herself. Knowing what I know about her career plans, it made sense for her to separate her social life from her professional one. (Don’t worry – she doesn’t do anything bad. She’s just a bit of a free spirit in a conservative industry where some might look down on her boisterousness.)

If you want to create a fake persona online, remember what Benjamin Franklin said: “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Be careful to only share your fake identity with people who will keep it private.

You can connect with me via TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTube, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.