Facts are facts… until you put them on the web…

In terms of advice, Cohen & Rosenzweig’s chapter on “Owning the Past” sure gives some good stuff. When I reading, I found myself asking, But what do you mean copyright law is up for discussion? To me, the law has always seemed fairly black or white. But in an age of new digital histories what used to be periods are now question marks, what used to be only found in libraries accessible with permits and passes is now viewable from a cafe or a couch on a personal computer with a wifi connection. And, as the authors write, “But copyright law, like history, is subject to conflicting interpretations as well as sharp contention between advocates of the rights of the owners of intellectual property and those seeking to enlarge the public domain.”

So does this mean that my cohort of online listeners and I can indulge posting music we enjoy on our blogs, sites like Youtube, or other places? Eh, not exactly write Cohen & Rosenzweig… Instead, most of the framework for copyright law still exists (ex: Fair Use: “the idea that limited borrowing from the work of others was acceptable when that borrowing produces something new and useful”) even though the web provides a new platform.

Though the chapter provides insight into the status of copyright law and ownership on the world wide web, it must be remembered that it was written in 2005… besides electing the first African American President, finishing the Harry Potter movie series, having a Pope die and another resign, and the demigod that is Beyonce spawning a child… a lot has changed since then!

For example, Cohen & Rosenzweig expound on a subject that affects many historians online: facts. They write about the fact that public facts exist in the public domain as facts, not with any add creative integrity or art. Therefore, they are free to use and abuse (well, not really abuse…) at will, with or without the permission of the author or gatherer…

However, in Craigslist v. PadMapper, the online “do good” giant filed a lawsuit against the apartment mapper website claiming copyright infringement for the site and their postings among others. PadMapper was using the postings on Craigslist to create visually friendly maps for users to scope out and find empty digs in the area. The case highlights the ebb and flow of copyright law by asking the question: what is a fact? Is an apartment listing a fact? Or is it a piece of material shaped by the poster? Is Craigslist similar to the phone book in Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service (1991)? Padmapper argues that it exists as a new creative way to access the information that Craigslists holds… an argument backed by web developers all over in an attempt to allow search services to keep accessing results from Craigslist.

Similar to the copyright laws it’s disputing, the Craigslist/Padmapper controversy is still up for discussion. However, the end result will undoubtedly shape how companies in the future can use and “free-ride” from the hardwork of others. As Jeff Roberts puts it, the question now has become, “Is it possible to protect companies from unfair free-riding without also also depriving consumers of new innovation?” 

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