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View Full Version : Car Clubs, Poems and Law Suits!



Steve_S
09-07-2006, 07:39 PM
Another thread led me to post this. It is partly a question and partly a warning to car clubs around the world. A local club I belong to recently included a poem in their newsletter which a few members had received in chain emails. It was entitled "If my body were a car" and had no author listed.

Shortly after the newsletter came out (including an online PDF version) the club received a letter by the supposed author's lawyer threatening to sue for unauthorized use of the poem unless the club pays several hundred dollars.

Apparently many other clubs have received this letter as well and I know of at least one that paid just to avoid the possibility of a larger law suit in the thousands of dollars.

My gut feeling is that if this person is really the original author, then they most likely put the poem out into cyberspace in hopes that it would be considered anonymous, and then used in car-related newsletters and magazines. They obviously patrol the web, searching for any reference to the poem and then threaten law suit against whoever has used it.

How many clubs out there have received this letter, and what have you done about it? The club I'm in is considering ignoring the letter but there have been many opinions on whether or not a law suit is really a possibility.

Any opinions?

aroostok
09-07-2006, 08:04 PM
Read this and it really upset me that there are people and blood sucking lawyers willing to play their game out there like you share in this one. Don't know what you can do but at least know there are some as outraged as you at the kind of people in society that would do such things.

Joe Reed
09-07-2006, 08:32 PM
I did some research on this a couple of months ago when our club got one of those letters - not from a lawyer, but from a purported literary agent.

That essay was written and published by a lady in North Carolina who, as far as I can tell, isn't primarily a writer (although she does have a couple of other copywrights as well). The original essay, IIRC, was originally published in a small town newspaper a few years ago - but was "officially" copywrighted late in 2005. As you might expect, a Google of that title turns up hundreds of sites where that was published.

Now, as for the "literary agent"...the phone number she provided on the email we received was an Atlanta area cell phone number. I was unable to find any listing for that agent in the Atlanta area, nor was I able to find anything online about her. She was not listed as a member of any of the trade associations for literary agents I was able to find.

Given this set of facts, here's my take on this situation...

The lady who wrote the article certainly does have a copywright on it...but I doubt that she initiated these "collection" efforts. More likely this so-called "literary agent" is equivlent to an ambulance chaser- apologies to you ambulance chasers on the forum /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/laugh.gif - and has found herself a nice little source of income by searching the web for the original source of those types of humourous ditties we all get via email on a regular basis. Once she finds the source, then finds the unauthorized work published at a number of places, she then contacts the original author and offers her services to the author - for a percentage of the take. I imagine her approach is crafted to encourage the author to protect their copywright...without pointing out that the author is going to look like a major anus by demanding $$$ from people who simply didn't know they were doing anything wrong. A nice note to remove the offending material wouldn't provide the agent with any income.

For the record, nothing the agent and/or author has demanded is incorrect. There are statutory remedies for copywright infringment and ignorance is no defense.

kennypinkerton
09-07-2006, 08:39 PM
Yep... I kindof agree... But there are people who make their living by writing original stuff.... I'm not one of them, but I have in the past givien permission for things - even poems that I've written, to be used freely in newsletters. I can sortof agree with the against the law bit, but, if it's been online - anonomously for at least a year, it's public domain by now - legally. And I'd bet that almost any court in the country would act accordingly if it was a trapped-set-up by the author to make money on lawsuits. Just remember if there was a copyright and authors name on the poem. (****, I shoulda been a lawyer)

Joe Reed
09-07-2006, 09:09 PM
"but, if it's been online - anonomously for at least a year, it's public domain by now - legally."

I'm not an attorney, but I doubt that's true. If I had a copywrighted work and someone started sending it around - without my permission - and it ended up plastered all over the Internet and published in various print publications, I don't think any of my rights under the copywright laws would be waived regardless of how long it took me to discover the infringment. In my case, however, I would simply be flattered.

Now...if someone were using my work to make a profit, that would be different. In this case, however, I could find any instances of this work being used for profit. Most were things like newsletters of non-profit clubs, personal blogs and websites, etc.

The thing about our case that's strikes me as odd, though, is that it was only published in our club's newsletter which went out to fewer than 100 people - and that newsletter was only on our site as a PDF download. So...a bot wouldn't have found that text on our site....so someone must have been really digging into every car club site around looking for that essay in newsletters.

kennypinkerton
09-07-2006, 09:26 PM
I don't think I'd worry about it. But yes... items listed on the internet freely (by whomever) for over a year, are considered public domain. Granted, copyrights last for 7 years, but unless the author filed formal copyright notices (and most don't) in the same year that he authored the piece, then he doesn't have a leg to stand on. And, if you needed and hired a good attorney, they would know this... and they would research the supposed original author's background... to find out if he has ever filed copyright papers, or also, if he is known for not doing so, and claiming copyright on stuff he publically released - just to try and make a buck after it started being used.

Most royalties are owned by corporations these days... not the authors of obscure poems about cars.

Steve_S
09-07-2006, 09:32 PM
Joe, it is possible to scan PDF files for text, and in fact I get results on various search engines on occasion for PDF files with a text string I entered a query on. That must be how they found both yours and the one from my club. Our newsletter was mailed to just over 100 people but is online as a public download. The poem has been removed from the online version as a precaution.

I was just about to submit this reply but figured I would post a link to the poem for those curious about it. When I searched for "if my body were a car" including the quotes, the first result is a PDF newsletter for the Houston MG Car Club! They must have been threatened also because I find no mention of the poem in the newsletter.

Joe Reed
09-07-2006, 09:39 PM
duuhhh.... I guess I should have known that, considering how many Goolgle searches I do turn up PDF files....

jlaird
09-07-2006, 09:39 PM
https://talk.wwwomen.com/showthread.php?threadid=15982

Not even very good.

Notice I did not copy, only linked.

kennypinkerton
09-07-2006, 09:46 PM
And.... Outside countries throw a whole other mix into the bag..... Seems that one is written in australia... Not even close to enforceable in the USA unless they filed the USA Copyright papers. for what it's worth.

tony barnhill
09-07-2006, 09:52 PM
Let's see: she posted it on an open forum (like BCF)...I'm not a lawyer (daughter & son-in-law are) but I believe once you post something to an open forum, it no longer belongs to you but to anybody who links to that forum....????

kennypinkerton
09-07-2006, 09:59 PM
But, then again... there are loopholes in almost every law on the books these days. I think from the original post... nobody who has printed this and recieved a deroggatory e-mail about it has anything to worry about.

Seems like a new/classic scam/phish email to me. And who is the wiser if they say different? Few more years, and more info phishing by the government might change that, but right now, I'd say everyone who's printed the article up uintil now is clear. I wouldn't print it again though.

David_DuBois
09-07-2006, 10:17 PM
Steve - This is an interesting subject. I am no legal expert, but it is my guess that if the notification is just ignored or the response is, "fine, take it to court" the problem would just go away. It does give credibility to the position that my wife has taken for the past 30 years as editor or our local MG 'T' Register newsletter. Any copied material that was sent to her for inclusion in the newsletter was sent back to the conributor with a letter stating that until they could provide her with signed permission from the author or the magazine from which the copy was taken, the material would not be printed in our newsletter. this position has made a number of members mad at her over the years, but then, we have never received a threat of a lawsuit for copywrite infringement either. I have always been amazed at the number of blatent copies of articles from magazines sch as Road and Track that show up in local newsletters without so much as an acnowledgement of where the article was taken from. That, to me has always been pushing the envelope. There has always been an agreement among various clubs and registers that we exchange newsletters with about sharing articles as long as creditis given to the orignial newsletter and club for the article and I have even gotten permission from the automotive columnist of our local newspaper to reprint specific artcles, but we have never used anything from a national magazine, nor would we without written and signed permission from the author and the magazine.
Cheers,

Jeff_Sigrist
09-08-2006, 10:21 AM
A google search would seem to indicate the author and copyright is valid. I found this link where the author asked that the essay be removed from another web site.
IFMYBODYWEREACAR.htm (https://www.braceguard.com/IFMYBODYWEREACAR.htm)

tony barnhill
09-08-2006, 10:29 AM
Wait a minute! She wrote it in 2003 but didn't copyright it until 2005! If somebody copied it during that time, is the copyright valid?

I agree that anybody who copied it after 10/28/05 is wrong but what about before then....& here's a problem with the internet: the place where we thought it was originated (a BBS forum) was just somebody copying her work! I think we all have to be careful, in today's world, to ensure we're not infringing on somebody else's intellectual work.

sideache
09-08-2006, 02:06 PM
[ QUOTE ]
I don't think I'd worry about it. But yes... items listed on the internet freely (by whomever) for over a year, are considered public domain. Granted, copyrights last for 7 years, but unless the author filed formal copyright notices (and most don't) in the same year that he authored the piece, then he doesn't have a leg to stand on.

[/ QUOTE ]

This is not entirely accurate and could also depend on the content and media ; songs, short stories, visual media.

I'm an illustrator, I create content - no one is allowed to use my work without my consent no matter how long it is on the web, whether on my site or on another. Now I would never sue someone that put my work, hopefully they would credit me, in a newsletter. I give consent to my work all the time. But if they tried to make money off of it, then I would have a problem. This has occurred on a number of occasions. I remember a bike shop in another state stealing a logo that I had done for someone else. When we contacted the shop, they had no idea that the designer they hired stole it. A lot of graphic designers just pull stuff of the web and use it. A number of non-profits do the same. I work as an entertainment illustrator, and you do have to protect your livelihood.

When I first read the topic, it does come across as a scam. The Internet is filled with this kind of stuff; unfortunately the Internet is also filled with people that steal from content creators. I would just ignore the request for money, wait until they pursue it. But there is a lesson here, one should not just print something without permission from the author/creator.

sideache
09-08-2006, 02:09 PM
[ QUOTE ]
Let's see: she posted it on an open forum (like BCF)...I'm not a lawyer (daughter & son-in-law are) but I believe once you post something to an open forum, it no longer belongs to you but to anybody who links to that forum....????

[/ QUOTE ]

Not true, just because you share something with an audience, doesn't give someone else the right to use that content how they feel fit.

This does look like a scam, however.

sideache
09-08-2006, 02:11 PM
[ QUOTE ]
Wait a minute! She wrote it in 2003 but didn't copyright it until 2005! If somebody copied it during that time, is the copyright valid?

[/ QUOTE ]

Yes.

sideache
09-08-2006, 02:19 PM
[ QUOTE ]
Steve - This is an interesting subject. I am no legal expert, but it is my guess that if the notification is just ignored or the response is, "fine, take it to court" the problem would just go away. It does give credibility to the position that my wife has taken for the past 30 years as editor or our local MG 'T' Register newsletter. Any copied material that was sent to her for inclusion in the newsletter was sent back to the conributor with a letter stating that until they could provide her with signed permission from the author or the magazine from which the copy was taken, the material would not be printed in our newsletter. this position has made a number of members mad at her over the years, but then, we have never received a threat of a lawsuit for copywrite infringement either. I have always been amazed at the number of blatent copies of articles from magazines sch as Road and Track that show up in local newsletters without so much as an acnowledgement of where the article was taken from. That, to me has always been pushing the envelope. There has always been an agreement among various clubs and registers that we exchange newsletters with about sharing articles as long as creditis given to the orignial newsletter and club for the article and I have even gotten permission from the automotive columnist of our local newspaper to reprint specific artcles, but we have never used anything from a national magazine, nor would we without written and signed permission from the author and the magazine.
Cheers,

[/ QUOTE ]

Extremely wise practice! Protects both sides.

aerog
09-08-2006, 10:42 PM
[ QUOTE ]
I don't think I'd worry about it. But yes... items listed on the internet freely (by whomever) for over a year, are considered public domain. Granted, copyrights last for 7 years,

[/ QUOTE ]

Can you cite sources for any of that information? I've looked and looked and I can't find a thing that references anything about items listed on the internet getting special treatment.

In fact, everything I can find points me in the other direction - and certain covers a period more than a mere 7 years from publication/copyright date.

The US Copyright Office website says, for example: "A work that was created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the authorís life plus an additional 70 years after the authorís death.

I agree with the previous assertion; if someone steals my work and posts it anonymously for over a year (without my knowledge or approval), I cannot believe there is a provision that automatically makes it fair game for everyone to use unless I fight them.

Sorry to further bend the thread toward a legal discussion, but I'm a little curious since most of what I do depends on the power of copyright.

aerog
09-08-2006, 11:19 PM
[ QUOTE ]
Wait a minute! She wrote it in 2003 but didn't copyright it until 2005! If somebody copied it during that time, is the copyright valid?

[/ QUOTE ]

Since the new laws went into effect, yes. "Copyright" goes into effect the moment the work is created (regardless of registration or copyright warnings).

Steve_S
09-09-2006, 01:19 AM
The internet really seems to be changing the way these things work. An article can spread around the world in hours, when it used to take months or even years. It seems the old laws aren't going to work very well in the future. How could a small, non-profit car club possibly know for sure that a funny car poem was illegal to print, especially if they weren't able to find the owner after an extensive search of the internet, which is where it came from in the first place? And especially when the title has been changed.

My wife has a newspaper clipping on our refridgerator of a Dear Abby-type thing. It contains a funny list called "Things we can learn from dogs". It is listed as anonymous, and asks for the owner to please contact her so credit can be given. If a major newspaper does it this way, then there must be something to protect the little guy from the same thing.

sideache
09-09-2006, 01:45 AM
[ QUOTE ]
The internet really seems to be changing the way these things work. An article can spread around the world in hours, when it used to take months or even years. It seems the old laws aren't going to work very well in the future. How could a small, non-profit car club possibly know for sure that a funny car poem was illegal to print, especially if they weren't able to find the owner after an extensive search of the internet, which is where it came from in the first place? And especially when the title has been changed.

My wife has a newspaper clipping on our refridgerator of a Dear Abby-type thing. It contains a funny list called "Things we can learn from dogs". It is listed as anonymous, and asks for the owner to please contact her so credit can be given. If a major newspaper does it this way, then there must be something to protect the little guy from the same thing.

[/ QUOTE ]

What about protecting me from the little guy that rips my work of from my on-line portfolio. It's a two way street. The best way to avoid this is to not use something when the author can not be found. A friend of mine who is an illustrator also, did some images of KISS. He posted them on his site, not for sale mind you. He came to me one day and said, dude, you have got to listen to this. It was Gene Simmons on his answering machine asking him to remove the images. He also said he liked the work and left the number to the bands licensing agent. Then politely said, if you don't remove the images, they will have to sue him.

The poem story still seems fishy to me. I would tell your friend not to respond to the threat.

kennypinkerton
09-09-2006, 09:28 AM
I don't know an exact source, so I'm probably spreading false info by having just said that. I'm not a lawyer. But I had been told that (about public domain, especially if there was not a copyright claimed) by someone else, and it made sense to me.

aerog
09-09-2006, 09:54 AM
[ QUOTE ]
I don't know an exact source, so I'm probably spreading false info by having just said that. I'm not a lawyer. But I had been told that (about public domain, especially if there was not a copyright claimed) by someone else, and it made sense to me.

[/ QUOTE ]

I think you might be. I can't imagine any situation where a copyright would automatically run out after 7 years (except for certain government documents, which are usually PD from the get-go). Imagine writing a novel in 2006, having it published in 2008, then having it go PD (and thus losing all your royalties) in 2013.

Anyway, I can't find anything that comes remotely close to a 7-year limit (maybe they meant 70 years) or a reference to anything kicking into "PD" because it's online. If you run across it again let us know - I'd be interested to hear the reasoning behind either of those cases.

sideache
09-09-2006, 10:19 AM
If I remember correctly, my book is in my office, the statute runs out 75 years after the death of the author. This also allows the copyright to be held by the family. In some cases, the family can renew it.

A copyright can also be transferred, I do that on occasion. It costs my clients more, but I always get a stipulation that I can use the work for self-promotion.

aerog
09-09-2006, 01:14 PM
Since 1978 that is essentially correct (see below). There's another bill in DC that will add another spin to it all. They want to add a $1 tax to every copyright. I'm not clear on whether that means the now-standard "it's copyrighted when you make it" rule-of-thumb will be tossed for a new scheme that will require registration and the $1 tax, or whether it's another twist to the registration process. The idea is to create a cheap paper-trail to make enforcement easier. Sounds good unless I have to send DC a buck everytime I shoot an image, or expect everything I do to fall into PD. We'll see.


From copyright.gov:
The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published, and, if so, the date of first publication. As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors. To determine the length of copyright protection for a particular work, consult chapter 3 of the Copyright Act (title 17 of the United States Code). More information on the term of copyright can be found in Circular 15a, Duration of Copyright, and Circular 1, Copyright Basics.

Banjo
09-09-2006, 07:38 PM
Very intresting thread. Our club got that letter (through the mail, not via email) and we had quite the discussion about what to do. Several offers from members to share the fine, some that reccomended us to do nothing, some that reccomended seeking legal council.
I don't know how it has turned out, but I'll ask, and let you know.
From the copy of the letter I saw, if it's a scam it's a darn convincing one.
It's my belief that it's a legit deal, just in extremely poor taste, by an individual(or said individuals representative) who saw a potential gold mine by dealing a low blow.
Protecting your work is one thing. Send out a warning letter, or a request for credit.These clubs did not intend to make money or steal credit from anyone.
This person isen't looking for credit, just money.
It's more like a setup scam. and unfortunatly, it's currently legal.

sideache
09-09-2006, 09:51 PM
[ QUOTE ]

This person isen't looking for credit, just money.
It's more like a setup scam. and unfortunatly, it's currently legal.

[/ QUOTE ]

I agree, this is why I would recommend not doing anything. They probably won't spend the money seeking a lawsuit, they just want you do send in the money. That way, they collect nice and easy. Let them come and get it.