As a professional writer, I like to be paid for my work. I still remember the first sentence I wrote for money, for a pop-up picture postcard. “Reigning majestically over the skyline of New York for more than 35 years, the Empire State Building still commands a view that can take your breath away.” I wrote that in the summer of 1966.
I generally freely offer permission to copy my writing, but I need to be asked. The most I ever got from reproduction fees came from someone who photocopied something I did, put it in a book, and, when confronted, said, “We didn’t know it was yours” (the top of each page still had my name on it).
These days, my confrontations are in the opposite direction. I give lectures, and sometimes I put others’ words, pictures, sounds, or videos into them. When possible, I ask (and get) permission; otherwise, I rely on fair use. My lectures are non-commercial and educational. I use only excerpts, and I make sure that what I do doesn’t diminish the value of the original.
My lectures are posted here and on YouTube, ad free. No one has yet complained about any contemporary material I’ve used. But I also use very old content, and many claim to own its copyright. They tell YouTube, which allows them to put ads on my lectures to monetize “their” material – and put me in fair-use jeopardy by making my lectures commercial. The ads go on before I’m even informed, and then I have to dispute the claims.
Earlier this week, YouTube freed me from the latest five organizations (after many previous ones) to claim copyright infringement for an excerpt of the opera aria “La donna è mobile,” which I used to show an early example of lip-synching. The opera opened in 1851. The librettist died in 1876. The composer died in 1901. The world’s longest author-based copyright term is in Ivory Coast, author’s life plus 99 years, which would have expired in 2000.
The recording I used was made in 1908. The longest recording-based copyright term is in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 75 years after release, which would have expired in 1983. The U.S. has a 95-year term for content first released after 1922; even if it applied, it would have expired in 2003.
I had a very short breather. Yesterday I noticed an ad on a lecture I did about baseball and opera. The claim is on a very short excerpt of the poem “Casey at the Bat.” It appeared in print in 1888, 127 years ago, and I used a 1906 recording.
There is no joy in my ville. Mighty digital copyright has struck – ouch!