Can Posts On A Message Board Be Copyright?
- June 29, 2005 @ 7:51pmimportantquestion says:On an issue-oriented website I maintain; I have a link to a proboards free message board. In one of the threads on it I have posted a thread and in some of the messages included some crazy posts that we saw on the message board of another organization. The owner of that board (also a free proboard) has said on their board (tho they have not tried to contact us) that copying those posts; even though I said where they came from is some kind of copyright violation they can take legal action about. My question - CAN the posts on a public accessed message board; where dozens of people are posting every hour or so; be copyright the way works on a website could? Please let me know if this would be a legal issue or not,
- June 30, 2005 @ 6:45amAFry says:I think you are asking the wrong question.
Can the posts on a public accessed message board...be copyrighted?In the U.S., a post on a message board is protected by copyright. However, I think what you really want to know is if
copying those posts; even though I said where they came from is some kind of copyright violation they can take legal action about.There are really 3 questions wrapped up in that statement Question 1: Have you violated copyright law? Only a judge trying an actual case can make a definitive statement on this issue. It is impossible for anyone to be 100% certain without going to court. However, you do not need to be 100% certain. The law limits the rights of copyright holders. One of these limits is called fair use. If your use is fair, you do not need permission from the copyright holder to use the copyrighted work. A judge will make a fair use determination using the four factors listed in the law on fair use: 1. Character of use 2. Nature of work 3. Amount used 4. Effect on market Every situation requires its own determination. You need to make your own determinations, but this is my determination based on the information you have provided. I don't know enough about your situation to be confident that my analysis is good. 1. Character of use. Usually interpreted as commercial vs. educational. If you are not using the other board's posts to make a profit, you can probably rely on this factor working in your favor. 2. Nature of work. Usually interpreted as creative vs. factual. I suspect that the posts in question tend to be creative. Assume this factor works against you. 3. Amount used. I'm unclear about your situation on this point. In any case, there is no magic number. I can imagine a situation where an quoting a single post would be a copyright violation, and I can imagine a situation where copying a whole thread is not a copyright violation. If you are taking an entire thread or a piece of the thread that can be considered an entire discussion, you might want to worry about this factor. If you are taking just one post, but that post is a long, highly creative post, this factor might work against you. However, if you are just quoting people in the same way that newpapers and magazines quote people, even if those quotes are occassionally long, you can probably rely on this factor working in your favor. 4. Effect on market. This is the most important factor. I do not see how your use could possibly affect the market based on the information you have given me. My gut feeling, based on what you have told me, is that 3 of the 4 factors, including the important one, work in your favor. The remaining factor probably works against you, but not as much as it would if you were using a novel, a poem, or a movie. I think your use is very clearly a fair use unless I have misunderstood what you are doing or you have left out critical information. Question 2: Can they take legal action? They can always try. Question 3: Will they take legal action? I don't know. Personally, I think it is foolish to worry about question 2. I believe that what you are doing is completely legal, and I believe that any legal action they take will fail. you can never completely protect yourself from crazy people or lawyers whose only concern is getting paid. I think question 3 is much more important. However, I have no real way of judging what the copyright holders are likely to do. I do not believe that the owner of the board is the copyright holder. I believe the writers of the posts you have used are the copyright holders. If I am correct, the owner of the board might arrange for the posters to get a lawyer but cannot take any legal action on his or her own behalf. I am not a lawyer and cannot tell you what you should do. However, if I were in your situation and understand that situation correctly, I know that I would do nothing. If anyone contacted me directly, I would explain fair use and show how I determined that my use was fair in the specifc situation being questioned. I would not be worried about legal action. But that's me. You need to make your own decision.
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