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Archiving older articles

Discussion in 'Copyright, Trademark, Patent Law' started by footpad, Apr 1, 2002.

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  1. footpad

    footpad Law Topic Starter New Member

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    I've been trying to determine the best way to archive technical information that has begun to disappear from the web. (In this case, "best" means whatever it takes to either re-publish or re-write information that once was--but is no longer--available on the Internet.)

    Case in point: I run a small, technical information web site devoted (in part) to a certain product. Once, this product had lots of support; that's dwindled. Nevertheless, a lot of people have written articles for it that I've archived.

    Since the original publication of that information, the publishing sites have frequently gone down, been bought, pulled their material, or otherwise lost interest in this product.

    Yet, I'm still seeing interest on Usenet and getting people asking questions already answered by these articles that are no longer available.

    In many cases, the original publishers and/or authors cannot be located.

    I'd like to preserve the information on my site, but do not want to open myself to infringement accusations. Nor am I overly interested in taking credit in material I did not originate. (That said, I would like to be able to take credit for that which needs to be rewritten in order to be re-published.)

    According my understanding of "fair use," the concept does not apply and my only alternative as this point is to create new article incorporating information from the original materials--without duplicating the expression of the them. Is this a fair interpretation?

    (Consider: The Supreme Court overturned Lotus vs Borland without comment, suggesting they did not want to establish a precedent. Applicable? I don't know. It appears that there's a difference between online and printed information.)

    For example, the last known Usenet FAQ (on one forum) for this product was updated in 1994. The companies, people, and other contact points have long since moved on. I can't find anyone and have made more than good-faith efforts to locate them and gain their permission.)

    Do I then need to completely rewrite it from scratch in order to safely publish a modern FAQ? Or is there a way I can borrow certain sections for reuse (and include proper attribution.)

    I have a laundry list of information I could post on this product, but much of it is cached from its hey-day and no longer available.

    Thanks in advance for any advice...
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2002
  2. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    There are a couple of things you may want to consider, in addition to what I believe is your good understanding of how copyright law works. Yes, you can create a new article based upon the information of the old -- the idea isn't protected and your restatement of the idea in your own words will be fine. However, it will come at a significant cost.

    If you believe that the information was created by numerous authors that have no interest in protecting their works, e.g. the FAQ for many Usenet groups are edited by numerous different individuals and with the intention of free distribution, then the benefit of posting them should outweight the risk of being sued. Who would take you to court for infringment? What damages would likely be awarded? The docs are free, have been made available for free, etc.

    Additionally, most people who post on Usenet would not even remember their generic responses to posts. I can't remember every question I answered six months ago on Usenet. Provided you don't use names, this again should be low risk. The information was provided for free and the risk of any suit for infringment is extremely low -- it's "de minimis." The danger is when you take a large enough body of information from one source or one piece that is "valuable" and repost it.

    HOWEVER, I'm not saying that there is no question of whether what you are doing is 100% and unquestionably non-infringing. I'm just not sure anyone will know or care to sue, even if it could be argued that they have a case.

    Graphics are usually different issues as they have a different appeal. A smiley face set could be sold as a graphics package, very different than someone's single answer to a problem on how to format a setence to be bold and arial font using WordPerfect.

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