My comments on the latest copyright fiasco and my own past foul-up

This is prompted by a recent copyright violation scandal that Elysia Gallo has written about at the Llewellyn blog here and here.

There’s a popular – and dead wrong – interpretation of copyright that suggests even gifting someone a book you’ve already read constitutes copyright theft. Somehow this thinking gets associated/confused with the whole “I’ll post this entire work online so any stranger that hits my site can read it to” is somehow NOT copyright theft. This second assumption is ALSO dead wrong.

Before some folks get to quibbly and mansplainy, I’m going to remind you, I have a degree in mass communications. What in the hell do you think we talk about for four years? Punctuation? No, we talk about libel, slander, fair use, copyright, plagiarism and ethics. For most of us in those programs, those lessons do actually take.

Creativity blocker
creativity blocker: not creating your own stuff because of fear of rejection

*Why yes, my photography is better. Never have cared.

So, to clarify on the whole book piracy discussion:

1. A copyrighted material that you share only with people you know, in a person to person (not online, more or less) way is not a violation of copyright. So if you liked my Urban Herbal piece in the 2011 Witches’ Calendar, and you made a photocopy or scan to give you two of your apartment dwelling friends – i.e. only people you know directly – you are not in violation of copyright. Just as if you use Kindle Share to send to your lover or bestie or Mom – and not to every email in your account – you are well within legal bounds.

2. A copyrighted material not of your making that you post to your website without an email or letter of permission from the copyright holder is NOT legal. Think of copyright as someone else’s virginity: you don’t get to decide what strangers to share it with. That is the sovereign decision of the copyright holder. Anyone who makes a comment about people charging for their intellectual work being whores or whoring their religion will be deleted and banned for sheer trollish willful ignorance.

3. Fair use has no comparison for the above metaphor. You can quote and credit, and don’t even need to check in with the copyright holder – just don’t take the entire piece of work. In general, take 10% or less of that person’s work, and if it’s a song quote, just avoid it as the music industry is just plain stupid, backwards and self-defeating. I love it when people quote my work, and use it to launch off an entire original essay or exploration, or even to conclude, research, or consider.

For the record, I personally have no problem with derivative works based on what I write – I have a problem with outright copying. I have had my original material (poetry) spark fan fiction, and to me, that is awesome. Most authors do NOT feel this way.

This copyright fiasco has crossed my path before, back in the 90s, when someone decided to troll authors who agreed not to distribute content online not of their own making.  I was just thinking about it the other day when Llewellyn posted this notice about a website where someone had actually made entire pdfs of well-known Pagan books and posted them online. I have in the past fouled up myself: my first foray on the Internet was a page my then-boyfriend posted of all the original website material I had saved to a research account around 1997. While I did get either permission to use the material or a takedown order direct from the author (I approached the authors when I realized the seriousness of what I had done) I was getting hate mail about it long after my page had become 100% original content and links to original content; I eventually found a page accusing me of plagiarism and encouraging people to send me hate mail. Apparently the author of the public missive did NOT see fit to change her message when my content had changed in its entirety. Most people are intractable on issues where they are outright caught doing wrong; it’s just that horrifying to realize that you are the one in the wrong. I’m sure this person was operating on that assumption, and became equally intractable when I changed the game by changing my attitude.

There’s much more to be said about the entire issue of copyright, plagiarism, and the Pagan web. Especially since the Pagan subculture has developed a series of conflicting attitudes that have made us as a group rather maladaptive when the point of opting for this religious umbrella was often about the freedom to adapt to a changing world instead of upholding increasingly brittle dogma in lieu of spirituality.  There is more to this than “stop sharing copyrighted work with strangers.” The next part is also complicated, and I will speak on as I am called to: it is why we need to create, to brave our way outside of the Pagan boxes we’ve created (oh yes, the Emperor is damn well IN a box!) and to talk about how we actually suppress a great deal of creativity in the name of being “smart” and honoring the “shoulds” instead of allowing the Pagan universe to expand.

For now, my comment is “don’t share somebody else’s goodies with strangers until they say it’s OK to.” That even if you’re especially hard-up for some goodie-sharing. If that’s the case, do what teens and adults do, and make your own goodies to share.


The changing scape of copyright and the occult writer

File:Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim.png

Copyright infringement is practically a venerable occult tradition. Francis Barrett plagiarized  Agrippa, Agrippa essentially got an entire fourth book/fanwork attributed to him on top of that, and there have been scandals through the ages about ideas in occult circles being stolen, secrets let out and work being outright yanked to print in books and on webpages. Most of these scandals are founded in facts, and the basics of proper attribution have degraded as standard attribution styles have changed and as the Internet has confused people as to what to attribute and how.

My experience with copyright has been of the Internet confusion variety. I come from the last generation that learned anything about proper attribution on paper, and then I stumbled into the web, which was quite a web: I didn’t know what to attribute or how, and in an effort to share the better information I found online I stepped on some copyright-concerned feet and managed to piss one particularly crazy lady off while trying to rectify the situation once I realized the seriousness of the situation. In fact, I may be directly responsible for the first pay-per-view Wiccan website out there, assuming it’s even still around.

While I still don’t feel confident about “proper” attribution with Internet resources, I generate mostly my own material these days so that aspect – beyond proper quotes and linking – isn’t such a big deal to my anymore. However, since I’ve gotten a small body of work in print I’ve noticed what other writers complain of: much of their work sometimes wanders its way online with and without attribution. I’ve had entire web pages I’ve written show up on other sites, and it was a point of frustration – not only did I want the credit for my work, I was frustrated because I wasn’t seeing the people taking my work to create anything of their own. They were just repeating, over and over, and in such a way that I didn’t think anyone was learning or building. To me the tendency to pass things all over the Internet and repost, paste and repeat them is a frustrating sign that as a group neopagans are almost deliberately sidestepping their own potential. Frankly, I would have been delighted to read that someone had tried one of my spells and that it blew up in their face – just because someone besides me had tried it!

The reason it used to be so important to defend all those sources from Internet mining was a matter of royalties, and for some people this is still true. In my case, since I wasn’t making any money from the information in the first place or only got played a work-for-hire fee, it was more about building my online profile. While I’m still relatively unknown, I’ve decided to let it go. I can spend all day every day chasing my work around the Internet, or I can write my own material. I choose me. Somebody’s got to be putting new ideas out there.

While I think copyright should matter in a civil-courtesy way, its applicability as a financial protection is dying because much of what has been produced particular in the occult field is contracted without much protection to the writer or the work. Collaboration and experimental effort – which will be discussed here in the future – are the next logical steps, because the days of sitting on secrets are fading. If it really is the Age of Aquarius, even the hidden things are going to get some light.