Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Richard Stim, Getting Permission

Richard Stim, Getting Permission: How to License & Clear Copyrighted Materials Online & Off: Free LibraryThing Early Reviewer book. I have some pretty detailed nits to pick with this book—most of them down to insufficient updating so that cases that were reversed are listed as good law—but I should emphasize that when it comes to books like this, I’m Mikey: I don’t like anything! That said, I thought this was a good practical overview, with a lot of useful forms, and introduced the concepts with a really pragmatic focus on risk management rather than the “always get permission” nonsense that no one who wants to get anything done ever does. In fact, I’d say that an “always get permission” ideology gets you in more trouble overall because when it is, inevitably, ignored, the people doing the ignoring often don’t know how to identify the real risks. Unfortunately, the book slips later into “it’s better just to get permission,” but I’d still recommend it for someone who needs to deal with disseminating material, whether informational or advertising, on behalf of an organization or business and doesn’t have a copyright background.

The trademark section and the discussion of linking are where the discussion tilts too heavily towards asking permission or just not mentioning the TM/not linking, especially with the latter. Stim recommends entering into “linking agreements” to avoid uncertainty, which is a rare triumph of legalism over common sense in the book. If you’re an Amazon Seller, follow Amazon’s policies with respect to linking, but taking that as a general rule for all types of online activity is just … odd.

On the law: Stim appears to endorse music publishers’ claim they’re entitled to double-dip on reproduction and performance rights from internet streaming and downloading, without mentioning that both the Copyright Office and the courts to have considered the publishers’ argument have rejected it. There’s a weird failure to update some cases—the printing is current enough to include the Harry Potter Lexicon case and the (now reversed) Salinger/60 Years Later district court opinion, but it discusses the district court opinion in Perfect 10 v. Google (reversed 2007) and the district court opinion in Hoffman v. Capital Cities (reversed 2001) as stating the respective outcomes. Stim wrongly says that the FCC bars product placement in made-for-TV-programming. He also says that one needs to negotiate for public performance rights to incorporate music into merchandise (e.g., a card that plays a tune on a MIDI chip), which seems as incorrect to me as saying that one must negotiate for public performance rights to produce music embodied in a CD. That all said, the book still strikes me as an immensely useful resource for the nonexpert who will be making small but commercial uses of existing works.

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