Copyright and Publishing On-line

The Web presents a new challenge to copyright and to ownership of published work. To improve performance, Web browsers cache (copy) Web pages in a local directory and the Web pages remain in the cache until they "expire" or until they are overwritten. Although the files in the Web broswer cache directory have strange names, the data is still accessible and the user can read the local copy as long as it remains in the cache (which can be for days). With a little thought one could write a "cgi" script that would dynamically create a Web page with pointers to all the Web pages in the cache (this could be embarrassing if you visit Would republishing these cached Web pages violate copyright? I suspect that it would. But is copyright violated by the original Web broswer cache? Finally, what is the difference between a link and a local copy? Certainly to the Web page reader they look very similar.

As anyone in the computer industry knows, copyright (and patent law) always lags far behind events. The existence of Web publishing places strains on copyright law and fair use law that have never existed before. Some, like John Perry Barlow, argue that copyright is dead. But they are less definite on how "content creators" get reimbursed for their labors. See Peter Huber's article in Slate (titled Tangled Wires: The intellectual confusion and hypocrisy of the Wired crowd) for one persons view on this issue.

Several people have proposed a "micro payment" scheme, where every time an article is read, a fraction of a cent is charged against a user's broswer account. This might solve some of the copyright issues and reward content creators in a more consistent fashion. But micro payments are not here yet and may not be for several years.

As anyone who has read through my Web pages can plainly see, I'm not a professional writer (more than one reader has commented on my poor spelling). So I have no doubt that I don't understand the issues professional writers deal with. But ignorance stops few people from having an opinion and so here is mine on being a professional writer in the wired world.

All writers are faced with the problem of building a following and getting name recognition. The Internet and the Web provide one way to do this. For example, I have become a great fan of Anne Lamott because I read her work in Salon. As a result, I track down her books in the book store, which I would not have done otherwise. Another example is Brock Meeks, who used his CyberWire dispatch, which he distributed free, to build a following which lead to his being published regularly in HotWired. Both Bruce Sterling and Charles Platt have kept electronic rights to some of their books, which they have published on-line. I assume that they have done this to build their readership as well.

The direction that on-line publishing will take is difficult to understand. But what ever the direction, print magazines, book publishers and on-line publications will continue pay writers for their work. The more that a writer is known, the more likely it is that they will be published and paid. So, it seems to me that a writer should be less concerned about someone "ripping off" an article that has been published on-line (see this link, for example) than with whether people know their work. Also, once something is published on-line in a freely accessible location, it seems unlikely that anyone else will buy a copy for on-line publication, since a link can always be used instead.

Wired Ventures, the publishers of WIRED magazine publishes all of the WIRED back issues on-line. They seem to have a full understanding of the issues involved in publishing in the wired world (as one would hope). WIRED includes the copyright notice shown below at the end of the articles they publish on-line:

WIRED Online Copyright Notice

Copyright [date] Wired Ventures USA Ltd. All rights reserved.

This article may be redistributed provided that the article and this notice remain intact. This article may not under any circumstances be resold or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from Wired Ventures, Ltd.

If you have any questions about these terms, or would like information about licensing materials from WIRED Online, please contact us via telephone (+1 (415) 904 0660) or email (

WIRED and WIRED Online are trademarks of Wired Ventures, Ltd.

The Nation uses a similar copyright notice.

Electronic redistribution for nonprofit purposes is permitted, provided this notice is attached in its entirety. Unauthorized for-profit redistribution is prohibited.

As with the WIRED copyright notice, the emphasis on this copyright notice is to allow non-profit distribution, while preserving any for profit rights.

As I mentioned, I am not a writer, but I am a software engineer. And I think that I practice what I preach above. If you look at my other Web pages, you will see a considerable volume of software that I have published. This software represents months of work on nights and weekends. It is free for what ever use anyone wants to put it to. I have done this for exactly the reasons I have outlined. The more people know of my work and of the kind of work I can do, the more likely it is that they will want to hire me. I do keep some of my software unpublished and reserve it for commercial use, but I constantly add to the software I publish as well. I see the two as complementary. The more people know about what I have, the better chance I have of selling it to them.

And finally there is the nature of HTML. One of the great features of HTML is the ability to build hypertext links. This allows a Web page to provide a structure that ties together information from all over the Internet. But anyone who publishes Web pages will discover that HTML links to other articles have a short life. If you go back a year or two after the links were setup you will find that articles have moved or removed from the system or that site hosting the article has disappeared. The only way to guarantee that a link will remain alive is to copy the article to the local system (in effect mirroring the article on the local system). But doing so violates the copyright law, even when the material is entirely unchanged, proper credit is given and no money is made from the local copy. One view of this is that the author of the material that was linked to loses the exposure that the link would have given their work.

So here is another offer along the lines of practicing what I preach: You may copy the Web pages published on provided that the use is non-profit, that you copy the Web page or pages in their entirety, including all author information, do not slander the author (Ian Kaplan) and provide a link back to

Ian Kaplan

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