The first day of each month, I’ve begun writing about ways to improve safety awareness. In the past, I’ve covered general safety topics related to modeling, such as handing Cutting Edges and Lighting / Eye Strain. This month’s safety topic differs from the previous topics in that it doesn’t deal with physical safety, but rather legal liability in the realm of Intellectual Property (IP): specifically in regards to copyright (and to a lesser extent) trademark violation.
Again, let me start by saying that I’m not the foremost authority on safety (or, in this case, legal matters); I’m just a concerned hobbyist that wants to make sure that everyone takes time to think about what they’re doing. This post is by no means a substitute for any safety practices available to you: be those from the manufacturer, your lawyer, or things you’ve already learned—it’s just an attempt to raise awareness to safety. Ultimately, if you have questions about the legality of what you’re doing—please consult your lawyer.
Many people confuse the concepts of copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Essentially, copyrights apply to works (art, music, writings), patents involve physical inventions, and trademarks are words, symbols or pictures, that describe a product. There are various levels in these categories, such as Registered Trademarks & Servicemarks) as well as other related categories (like Trade Secrets), but those are really reserved for more advanced discussions. If you’d like to know more on a basic level, about.com has a decent high-level overview here. Alternately, you can find out everything you’d ever want to know about the subject at the US Patent Office’s website, here.
Normally, I’ve seen these examples compared to KFC, since they have a really great example of a trade secret, but since we don’t particularly care about that subject for the purpose of this blog entry, we’ll just use an example we can all understand: Games Workshop.
- Copyrights: Codexes; Rulebooks; writings on their websites; pictures on their website; their models, etc.
- Patents: Their molding technology
- Trademarks: The GW logo; the 40k logo; and the long list of names at the bottom of GW’s IP Page
All of these areas are covered uner a generic blanket term called Intellectual Property (IP). So, what can you do with their IP without getting slapped around? Well, thankfully, GW has a great page stating explicity what you can and cannot do with their IP. That’s really just a start though, as IP law is very complex. Essentially, you should do your best to follow those rules they set forth when dealing with their material, and work with them should they place a claim that you’re violating any sort of their IP. Essentially though, if you’re following the rules they lay out, you should be in the clear.
There is an unfair view from many that GW is seen as a heavy-handed corporate monster out to squash gamer’s fun by issuing countless cease-and-desist letters. Granted, they do seem a little aggressive at times with this sort of practice, but they’re ultimately just protecting their property. They work very hard to create content, models, and basically everything listed above, and are just trying to ensure that people aren’t making unfair profit off of their work.
But keep in mind, that us on the blogosphere aren’t subject to just GW’s IP rules. We’re notorious for stealing images from other websites, and very seldom does anyone site their original source. Do you remember back in school where you wrote a term paper and had to site your sources. When you didn’t it was called plagiarism, and was the kind of thing you could get expelled for. So what makes it right now? If you’re using someone else’s work, you should rightfully give them credit. This is the reason you see little italicized quips at the end of each of my posts giving credit to the website of anyone that I use images from. Technically, I should get permission from each of them to do so, but since I write these blog entries up on a whim, and don’t want to take two weeks to get a response, I just go ahead and use them, but give them credit. Any of them would be perfectly within their rights to ask me to remove the content or issue a cease-and-desist letter on using the content though, and I’d gladly comply. When my blog first started, I wasn’t a stickler for this though, but thanks to Pony-Boy for opening my eyes to something I should’ve been doing all along.
A good page to go to for more information on generic IP rules and misconceptions is Brad Templeton’s page (which is explicity tailored to copyright information, but is good generic information none-the-less). Within that page, he explains that just because something doesn’t have a copyright symbol (©) doesn’t mean it isn’t copyrighted, and goes into detail about derivative works, and the concept of fair use. It’s a real eye-opener.
So, where does your blog stand on IP?
- Do you have on your page to comply with GW’s request, stating that you’re not official, and that you respect their IP?
- Do you credit your sources when you post images and/or text from other sites?
- Do you request permission before doing #2 above?
- Do you credit GW for sculpting the model in every picture you take? (Wow, that does seem a little absurd…)
Certainly, I’m not without fault on this sticky situation myself. I just try to toe-the-line and respect people’s property to the best of my ability. I’m certainly no lawyer, so I can only act in good faith and try to follow the rules to the best of my ability. Again, this post is in no-way intended to be an all-encompassing explanation of the do’s and dont’s of IP law. It’s only meant to raise the general level of awareness. If you’re looking for more information on the topics I’ve touched on, here are some good links to get you started:
- The US Government website
- The United States Copyright Office
- The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) (or just read the cliff-notes)
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s page on Fair Use
Hopefully someone else out there has something to add to this discussion. Anyone?
Copyright Definition image used without permission from http://www.lawyersandthelaw.com