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Nov 302003
 

Introduction

As with any of my various Rants, this will contain randomly generated thoughts that have been swimming around in my head for days, weeks and even months. As a side effect, it may seem fragmented to the casual reader but understand this: This document is drafted with passion and feeling for the subject at hand.

I, by any stretch of the imagination, am not a lawyer. What is contained in this document are my feelings and opinions on a touchy subject based on extensively pouring over what is deemed legal documents and attempting to come up with a solution to my particular problems in the best way that I can.

The issue

When my domain first came online on February 14, 1999, I had absolutely nothing that anyone else would ever want to duplicate. It mostly consisted of random babbling (and still does) with plenty of personal opinion.

This changed after publicly posting my Windows 2000 Services documentation and Services Configurations. It was originally intended as a means for me to remember what my system configurations were after a clean install of the operating system and why I chose to place them in a particular state. In short order, it became a popular resource for professionals in the IT field as well as home users wanting additional information on a cloudy subject.

When my information started to become popular, I was ecstatic. I could not believe I actually posted information that was useful to someone other than me. I enjoy helping people with their problems and found great satisfaction in E-Mails directed at me, complementing me on my hard work.

On February 1, 2002, my exotic paradise became clouded for the first time by a web site seemingly copying my information and opinion practically verbatim. I was crushed, enraged and felt I was stabbed in the back by a stranger with no regard for other people’s property. The main thing that annoyed me to no end was that my descriptions of the various services contain plenty of my opinions. As such, tons of “I’s” are included to denote that fact. What results from this is the “sound” of my opinions coming from someone else’s mouth. Scary as it seems, I did not and still don’t like it one bit.

Shortly after that time, I started to consider Copyleft as a solution. I figured if people were going to duplicate my hard work, I may as well give them permission to do so. In a round about way, authorizing my helpful information to be duplicated in an effort to “get the word out” to more people than what I have the resources to do. The idea seems sound, but has its own problems.

Later on down the road (call it the information super highway, if you must), I did a search on Google.com for one of my “specially formed sentences that only I could possibly come up with.” The result was several additional instances of Cut and Paste Writers calling my information their own. Again, the ego was crushed and I became outraged, posting my Cut and Paste Writers Rant (removed in 2007) in an effort to lash out at those that choose to disregard copyright law. I also wrote different versions of E-Mails to the particular contacts for the domains. Some I asked nicely to please remove the unauthorized information. Others I threatened with a legal battle.

The back lash was predictable: The “nice” E-Mails resulted in “screw you.” The legal action threats resulted in “screw you” and “screw you some more.” However, several instances are noted that the information was removed as requested. More often than not, a new page was posted “slamming me” for protecting my rights.

Another form of theft

After transferring my domain over to my own server equipment, I started to notice instances of my images being “inlined” by other web sites. This indication came about because some images were being served “more” then the document that actually contained them. Being how HTML was originally intended to share information with “trusted” clients and servers, a person can inline an image on their own domain, thereby causing no stress on their server but actually sending the request to another. This is done, most notably, with banner advertisements.

One instance in particular, was a forum post on a foreign web server that inlined every one of my Windows XP Install guide images. Each time that page was hit, 40 requests for images were sent to my web server. Now, if these were the “thumbnail” versions with links to the full versions on the domain, it would not have upset me as much as what actually was occurring. Each of the inlined images was the full version. So, in short, tons of bandwidth was being sucked off of my server with me getting nothing for it.

Since that discovery, I have banned all inlined images on all domains. Unfortunately, that also blocks Google.com’s cache. More on that subject on a later date.

Copyright

Copyright exists the moment any document is published (http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html). It all boils down to rights given to the original author for compensation and credit for the effort put forth to draft the document in question. However, there is a catch.

Even though a document is protected by Copyright law, there is very little a person can do if a document is duplicated without permission unless it has been previously registered with the United States Copyright Office (). From what I understand, this basically “proves” the origin of a document and allows the author a legal leg to stand on for violations.

I wish I had a crystal ball to have been able to see it all coming.

After the discovery of my information being redistributed without my permission, I spent many weeks trying to figure out what I could do to solve my problem. The end result had me filling out forms and sending in a registration fee (http://www.copyright.gov/docs/fees.html) for the particular information in question. At that time, my original information had already been through a couple of revisions and I noted that fact on the form. As a result, my request was declined because I was not registering the “original” information. Okay, but I could, under Copyright law, register the modified document and state it as such with the original publication information included. This also required an additional fee (http://www.copyright.gov/docs/fees.html). After finding this out with a phone call from a representative of the Copyright office (several months after the application was filed and after another revision had already been posted), I needed to dig further into the mess to find out what other options I could have.

To add to the troubles, there is no “blanket” rule to allow for web publications. Essentially, when I would modify the information, I would need to resubmit the document to the Copyright Office with an additional fee (http://www.copyright.gov/docs/fees.html) to retain my rights. With the dynamic nature of the content on the domain and the amount of money it would take to “officially” retain my rights on the 730+ pages that I have, it was beyond the trouble and what I felt I could afford.

Another stone to toss on the pile is the question of damages.

What if I did register my documents? Would I be able to afford to go to court to fight for my rights? Where would these proceedings be? Would they be in the state of the violation? How about if the violation was committed in a different country? How much could I possibly receive from a settlement? So many questions, not enough answers.

My feeling of damages is this: I have none.

The only thing that is hurt is my pride and ego. Watching the traffic logs on the site and knowing my information is helping others, though, is priceless. I am sure, however, a US Court would not see the priceless nature as I do so clearly.

Their must be another way.

Copyleft

Copyleft is, by definition, just the opposite of Copyright law. It, more specifically the GNU Free Documentation License, was drafted with the philosophy that free software should also be bundled with free documentation. From my understanding of the current license, it allows anyone to copy and redistribute a document with a limited but powerful set of rules. Most notably would be giving credit to the original author and allowing modifications by anyone without monetary compensation but still retaining all rights to the original material.

This poses a whole new set of problems.

Releasing the information under the FDL is a great idea, in theory. However, in recent months, I have been working a totally unrelated issue with the Open Source Software package by the name of Apache. Apache is an outstanding web server that I legally use for free. Along those same lines, the documentation for Apache is worked on by possibly thousands and viewed by millions of people around the world. The problem comes from trying to find information or a “different spin” on configuring this program. Using Google.com and searching for Apache information is difficult, at best. I know that the original document is located at apache.org. However, many other web sites have mirrored that information. From personal web sites to Universities, over and over again, I would select a “new” link, just to be whisked off to the same information that can already be found at apache.org, only formatted for that particular web site.

Extremely frustrating as it has become, it also warned me of additional problems that could come from my information being allowed to be distributed. Most notably, the problem of “outdated” material that is no longer valid. I would have no way of knowing what sites have redistributed my material and no way of “forcing” them to update the information with the newly drafted release on my domain. I only would be able to hope that they would follow through and check for updates when they are able to do so.

Translations of the information I have is also a problem. Being how I only know English (and, sometimes, that is questionable in my writing), I have no way of knowing whether or not something was “lost” in the translation or the person translating the information misinterpreted my meaning.

Torn between the better of two evils

So, on one side, I have the option of spending a great deal of money defending my ego. On the other, I have the option of releasing my hard work without ever knowing if it is helping people or actually the cause of more confusion.

What is a small time web geek to do?

Black Viper

November 30, 2003

Revision History

November 30, 2003: Initial release

March 15, 2007: Corrected a few errors.