Who Owns Rights To Forum Content?

"Buy 1 for yourself and get the chance to sell your friends and family 5 and get your downline started!" We examine the multi-level marketing industry, where only the people who come up with the ideas make any money, and everybody else is left unhappy, broke, and tired of reading scripts and selling overpriced vitamins and similarly worthless products. Includes Global Prosperity, Pinnacle Quest International, IRS Codebusters, Stratia, and other new Global Prosperity scams.

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Doc Bunkum
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Who Owns Rights To Forum Content?

Post by Doc Bunkum » Fri May 28, 2010 4:38 pm

While not directly related to any particular scam or company, but about the material on this forum, I have a question as to who owns the rights to the contents?

The reason I'm asking is this. Suppose there was a runaway thread on some company, let's say USANA for example.

Some enterprising individual takes all the posts, compiles them into an e-book, and then sells the material on the internet.

Would they be able to do that "legally"? Or does the owner of the Quatloos! domain have exclusive rights to the material posted on his forum, and could he publish these discussions in a book?

Not that I'm about to do it, but it's something I've always wondered about.

I'd hate to see my name appearing in some book being sold, which is why I prefer to remain anonymous and use a fake name, despite the accusations by some for being a cowardly internet troll by doing so.


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Re: Who Owns Rights To Forum Content?

Post by Evil Squirrel Overlord » Fri May 28, 2010 4:50 pm

You cowardly internet troll!

It is my understanding that the question of content of internet message board post ownership has not been decided in court, although in fact you are posting publicly, so by my 30 minutes of random wandering outside a law school building I'd suppose it'd be fair use.
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Re: Who Owns Rights To Forum Content?

Post by wserra » Fri May 28, 2010 6:50 pm

IANAIPL (I am not an IP lawyer). I think we have a couple on the board ("iplawyer" would be a good guess). But this is my understanding (note the lack of citations).

Posting something on a public board does not give up the general author's copyright - otherwise authors who permit their works to be published online would be doing so, and that is clearly not the case. In order for writing to become public domain, the author must specifically say so, not just publish publically. I think I disagree with ESqO in that grabbing wholesale for use in a book for sale is fair use, for a couple of reasons. First of all, commercial use is presumed unfair. Second, fair use is characterized by excerpting as necessary to make a point, not copying entire articles.

So I would say that the material on this board is in fact copyrighted, and the holder is the author. The question if the copyright is violated is really one of damages. What is the commercial value of the average post here? Probably zero.

I welcome correction by someone who knows what s/he is talking about.
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Re: Who Owns Rights To Forum Content?

Post by Arthur Rubin » Fri May 28, 2010 6:57 pm

I am not a lawyer, although I used to proclaim on intellectual property on Usenet.

That being said, I think both the individual contributor would retain an (unregistered) copyright on his/her individual words, and the board owner would retain an (unregistered) compilation copyright to the extent that posts are edited or removed from threads.

That being said, as the copyrights are unregistered, the copyright owners could only collect actual damages.

As for me, I only complain if my posts are partially quoted as badly as TP's do Supreme Court decisions, or if the serial numbers are filed off. There are many of my Usenet posts which get republished on boards with the sender removed; I only know about them because a Google search on my name picks up the replies.
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Re: All Your Base Are Belong To Us

Post by Harvester » Sat May 29, 2010 4:41 am

If you'll buy that e-book Doc, I will write it.

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Re: Who Owns Rights To Forum Content?

Post by Cathulhu » Sat May 29, 2010 1:51 pm

Harv, Harv...real publishers want authors with social security numbers and front teeth. But a vanity press would take your money, if you had any.
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Doc Bunkum
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Re: Who Owns Rights To Forum Content?

Post by Doc Bunkum » Sat May 29, 2010 5:04 pm

So the takeaway from this, I gather, is that the OP is presumed to own a copyright on their post (unless there is something in TOS that states otherwise - something few people read I would think).

If somebody copied and published that post, the author could sue for damages. But as the post has little value, they'd likely collect very little. Probably cost them a lot of money to prove a point (and make some lawyers very happy).

Is that about it?

The reason I'm asking is because this happened to me once before.

Way back in the early days of the web (Windows 1.0), I made this comment on a nutrition forum.... have a nice day : ) . (This was when there were real smilies - not those cartoon ones everybody uses now.)

Somebody copied my post and before long it was on bumperstickers nationwide and it became a clitche. You might have heard of it or seen that smiley face around.

Anyways, it occurred to me that royalties were due me, but after a meeting with my lawyers, clauses in the TOS of that forum were proven to give them ownership of all comments.

They did however give me a free years supply of protein powder.