Copyright for Pagans: Common situations

So, all this talk about copyright, what does it mean? In this part, I’m going to talk about some situations that come up commonly, and best practices for dealing with them.

Copyright for Pagans: Common Pagan situations : white chalk text on green blackboard background.

Personal notes

People sometimes wonder where the lines are, and I’ve known some people who panic about copying material for their own personal notes.

Copyright law has an exception for personal research and study. It’s okay to make a copy (from a legit copy of a work) of a moderate amount of material for your own use – for example, a specific chapter of a book that’s most relevant, or an article from a journal issue, or a selection of articles from a bunch of different journals specific to your topic.

The key is that it’s for your own personal research, and it shouldn’t replace the purchase of that book, or that journal, or whatever. The minute you want to share your collected stuff, you’re stepping outside personal use, and some different concerns apply.

What else is okay? It’s usually fine to copy something (or portions of something) into your own notes, such as a chart, map, layout, quotation, summary, etc. that you find helpful.

Here’s some examples

  • Copying a specific ritual bit (spell, invocation, etc.)
  • A layout for a ritual set up, Tarot spread, or other item.
  • An article on a specific obscure deity from an academic journal
  • A chapter dealing with deities from a specific location from a larger book.
  • Keeping a copy of a public post (such as on a blog) for future reference or study (i.e. a post about a particular tradition or group).

Key tips

Whenever you make copies of materials like this, it’s important to note where you got it from. That way, if you ever do want to use it in a way that requires permission or formal citation, you’ll have the information you need.

The information I find useful to note includes:

  • Author’s name
  • Title of where I got it from (blog, website, book, journal, etc.)
  • Address of site (if relevant) or other contact information for the author.
  • When I collected it

In some cases, noting what I was working on when I found it is helpful. If you’re collecting PDFs, many PDF readers have an annotation tool that means you can type in brief notes on a blank bit of page (beginning or end).

Creating a ritual

One of the things some Pagan folk do a lot is create ritual, or help provide ritual.

And no one wants to stop in the middle of ritual to say “This chant comes from Jess Middleton’s Songs for Earthlingspage 77, and it’s by Donald Engstrom” (One of my favourites, and not just because I know Donald.)

So how do we handle that?

One way is to provide ritual notes at the beginning and end, or to provide them in some other format, so people can track down that chant.

For example, if you have a website, email list, Facebook or Meetup page, put the notes in the ritual of pieces from elsewhere afterwards. Some groups might do half or quarter sheet pages with lyrics and also things to take away from the ritual, like a reminder of the focus or the names of the deities invited.

Sometimes it’s possible to slide that into a description “We’ll be singing “This song” written by This Person, to raise energy to charge our working and “Other song” written by Second Person as we share in food and drink together.”

Key tips

If you’re using other people’s stuff, make it easier for the people you’re sharing it with to find more of it. Everyone wins that way. It also provides reassurance that you’re not misappropriating materials.

(I was around for a situation where someone lightly rewrote evangelical Christian songs and passed them off as their own work. Not only is this not cool on the copyright front, and probably disturbing to the creators of the works who had other things in mind, but it was really jarring and ritual-disrupting for people in that ritual who knew the originals, had strong emotional reactions to them, and didn’t expect to hear close variants in a Pagan ritual.)

It helps a lot if you use sources that mention where they got things when they share them – the Songs for Earthlings book does this, as does the Panpipes Pagan Chant site from Ivo Dominguez for chants. (And sometimes you can use these sources to find the original creators of things you learn elsewhere.)

Blog posts, reviews, and similar writing

Book reviews (and reviews of other things, like audio recordings, podcasts, sites, etc.) are a common way to share resources and talk about them. It can be a great way to send traffic to the sources and resources you most like.

People often wonder whether it’s okay to quote, and if so how much. Here’s the bad news: there’s no clear on answer to this, but there are some common good ideas.

Key tips

Quote the minimal amount you need to to make your point. If you like someone’s ideas but don’t need to quote the precise words, summarise or paraphrase the original.

Not sure how to do that? Here’s some great clear examples from Kate Hart using Harry Potter as the source. The rest of the article has some useful tips too.

A good guideline is no more than about 2-3 sentences in a longish (1000 words or so) blog post or online post. If you’re writing a review or discussion of a piece of material, then you’re adding additional information, and you can usually get away with quoting a bit more. For longer works, a common guideline is 250 words total from a book-length work, and proportionately less for shorter works.

On social media, if you’re sharing images or passing along information, make sure you include link backs to the original – it can be easy to miss these when reblogging or tweeting.

Formal writing

The most complex section in some ways, because there are so many variations here. But it’s also the briefest here, because my basic guidance is to look for resources on the kind of formal writing you’re doing .

Academic writers use one of a variety of style and citation guides (MLA, APA, Chicago, or many other field-specific ones) to manage this, and those citation guides take entire books or websites to explain.

In the meantime, keeping clear accurate notes of your materials and their sources will go a long way.

This series

The last part will be coming soon, talking about what to do if you create material (and you have created copyrighted material yourself, I’m quite sure!)

Copyright for Pagans : Fair use

Fair use is a concept in copyright law that is about balancing the rights of the copyright holder with discussion (and exploration of) copyrighted works.

Fair use is what allows us to write book reviews or movie reviews, quote a short bit of a text in an essay, or reference a copyrighted work as part of a lawsuit or other thing requiring documentation.

It’s also what allows (at least some space) for parody songs, filk, fanfiction, fanvids, fan drawings, mashup images, cosplay, and much more.

Fair use is a weird thing. It isn’t set out in detail in law – instead, it is a possible defense if someone sues you for copyright infringement. A court or judge has to decide if your specific case is fair use or not. Unless and until that happens, you don’t know for sure.

This makes it very hard to make suggestions, though there are some educational guidelines (more on that in a minute) and a lot of sites have set limits on what they consider okay for the uses they see.

Courts look at four factors when making their rulings about fair use, but different courts have made very different decisions about similar amounts of material, or how material was used.

This is good place for a reminder that getting permission from the copyright holder is often a great way to avoid this whole question. (Either by getting direct permission, or by using materials that have been licensed for general use through blanket permissions: see the section on Creative Commons below.)

Factors

The four factors courts look at are:

  • How transformative the use is
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substance used
  • The effect of use on the potential market

People have written books about all of these, so I’m touching on it briefly here, and if you want to dig into it further, the Stanford site mentioned below is a great starting place for a lot more detail aimed at non-lawyers.

Transformative

Have you used the copyrighted work to do something new and interesting? That might favour a transformative use.

Some things courts look for are if you’ve added new meaning by using the work and adding additional material or context. Maybe you’ve used it to make connections between different things.

Fanvids are a great example here: sometimes the song someone chooses and the video clips someone chooses bring out new connections in the existing material, or highlight something that might be lost otherwise.

(Need an example? Parachute by Thingswithwings is a Leverage fanvid that highlights the relationship between three of the show’s characters. And this discussion of the making of a vid for We Didn’t Start The Fire (the Billy Joel) illustrating 50 years of (Western media) fandom by Scribe and Fiercynn talks about some of the creative choices that go into this kind of transformative work, and could not exist without the source material.)

Nature of the work

In general, fiction and poetry (or creative work in general) gets more protection than non-fiction.

This is because sharing of information or information is seen as a key good thing in society, and so there’s encouragement in the law to do it within reason.

(However, sharing the information doesn’t necessarily mean sharing exactly how someone else said it: often it is better from a copyright point of view to give your own paraphrase and tell people where to find the original rather than copy an extended passage.

Copying directly is usually best saved for when you need to discuss specific wording, or are doing a detailed review or analysis where you look at a segment, then discuss it in detail, and then do another section.)

Unpublished works also generally get more protection than published ones. (Because the creator has the right to control how the work is shared in the first place.)

Amount and substance

Basically, the more you use, the more likely it’s going to be considered a copyright violation. Copying the entire thing, usually a problem.

This is why a lot of spaces set a limit like saying you can quote a certain number of sentences or words: it helps give some guidance about what ‘too much’ might be.

It’s not just about the number of pages or words or percent of an image or song, though – it’s also about how core that piece is to the work you’re copying. This is something it’s very hard to evaluate, but it’s a factor the courts consider.

However, parody is a little different here: if the whole work you produce is a parody, you probably have more license in copying memorable bits from the thing you’re using. The relationship to the original work is a large part of what makes the parody recognisable and effective.

Effect on the potential market

A lot of people try to say that their use won’t affect the market. That isn’t something that the user of copyrighted material gets to determine, though. You don’t know all the parts of the potential market like the original creator or copyright holder does.

Basically, though, if you affect the copyright holder’s ability to make money from their work (by providing copies for free, by using their work to create an effective alternative that people buy instead of the original) then you may find yourself having problems with copyright.


Providing citations and acknowledgement

A lot of people think that if you say where the original was from, that will keep you out of trouble.

This is where we come back to the difference between copyright and plagiarism I talked about in part 1. Telling people about the original is a good thing! But it’s not enough to stop a copyright violation if there is one.

Getting permission from the copyright holder, or using material which the copyright holder has agreed to share is a different situation. In that case, credit may still be required as part of the permission or license.

Creative Commons licensing is a method creators can use to give blanket permission for some kinds of uses, and some of the licenses require crediting the original in a specific way.

Educational uses

There are some very general guidelines for educational uses, which means things that look like a structured class This is usually material that is available to a limited number of people (not posted for the entire Internet to access), for the duration of a series of classes (not forever).

Ongoing Pagan classes like seeker, dedicant, or pre-initiate classes can fit into this category, but posting something in public spaces online or using it for a one-time workshop probably would not qualify.

The Stanford site in the resources has an entire section on academic and educational uses that may be of interest.

Resources

Stanford has an excellent and widely referenced site on Fair Use. (However, don’t trust anything you see in the comments without checking it in well-informed and reliable source: a lot of the comments there are just wrong.)

In particular, you might find the summaries of major fair use cases interesting, and they do regular updates on major cases that relate to copyright and fair use.

If you’d like detailed legal explanations, the lectures from class 9 of the CopyX class give an excellent historical and current overview of fair use (and how it got like this) with a lot of examples.

Next

I’ll be digging into more specific examples (and some common confusions) in part 5.

Copyright for Pagans: Key concepts

Welcome back to my series of posts on copyright. As I said in the intro to the last post, it’s a very complicated subject, so today’s post focuses on some specific terms and a few common confusions (we’ll be getting to some more in part 4). Here are the parts in this series.

  • Part 1: Why is copyright so complicated? 
  • Part 2 : Key concepts and terms (This post)
  • Part 3 : What is under copyright? And what isn’t?
  • Part 4: Examples and common confusions
  • Part 5: Fair use: what it is and isn’t.
  • Part 6: Common Pagan situations, including some best practices.
  • Part 7: What creators of material should know. (We all create material.)

Image text reads: Copyright for Pagans: Basic terms and concepts

Intellectual property:

Intellectual property is the broad term used to describe “creations of the mind”. It covers written material, fine arts, music, theatre, performing arts, and also things like inventions, designs, names, concepts, and much more.

These different areas have different laws that apply to them. For example, patent law deals with inventions, and trademark law deals with names, or the copyright law we’ll be focusing on in these posts.

You’ll often see people refer to intellectual property or Intellectual Property Law to describe this group of laws and policies. Intellectual property can also cover things like industrial designs or even identifying a particular food as coming from a specific location.

Pretty much everyone – especially in our modern, Internet-filled world – is producing intellectual property on a regular basis. Most of it doesn’t have a lot of commercial value, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t intellectual property.

Copyright

Copyright law has to do with the rights someone has, around a particular kind of intellectual property (original works in a fixed form). These rights include who can make a copy (hence the name. This can help with people who get confused and call it copywrite.)

Specifically, for most countries these days, copyright is about who can…

  • make copies of a copyrighted work (that includes posting it online)
  • distribute copies of a copyrighted work to the public (also includes posting it online)
  • make derivative works based on the copyrighted work (use it in other ways, new formats, translations, etc.)
  • perform the work in public
  • display the work in public.

For some kinds of works, it’s common for the original creator to transfer the copyright to someone else (like a musician might transfer the rights that relate to making and distributing copies to a recording studio.) Some creations, like a movie, are the work of many people, and so part of setting up those projects is figuring out who gets what rights.

Many social media and online community sites have something in their terms of service agreements that note you give them permission to share what you write with others (making and distributing copies) because otherwise people couldn’t read what you wrote or look at the photos you took and shared. Well-designed sites will make it clear they’re only asking for the permissions that allow the site to function, and they aren’t trying to claim copyright over your materials.

It’s possible to give permission for a particular use without transferring the copyright, so a copyright holder can choose to let someone else give a performance or make copies, while still retaining their rights.

Sometimes this process involves a license, which spells out the specific agreement in detail. That way everyone knows what to expect. Some fields, like mainstream publishing and music distribution, have standard sets of license agreements they want to use. Other times, it is entirely up to the people involved and what they agree on. (Also worth noting: licenses are often much more restrictive than the law is.)

My copyright professor said that the vast majority of copyright cases that make it to trial begin with people not being clear about their agreements. This is why you want to work with people who focus on intellectual property law if you’re setting up your own agreements with someone.

Plagiarism:

Plagiarism is different than copyright. Plagiarism is taking someone else’s material and claiming that you wrote it, created it, or otherwise were responsible for it. It gets talked about a lot in education, because it can come up a lot there.

In short, copyright is about who can make decisions about the work, and plagiarism is about whether you give credit to the person who came up with it. Both can apply to a given situation, or only one.

You can plagiarise something and have it also be a copyright violation.
One example: someone takes an extended passage out of a recently published (under copyright) book written by someone else, and puts it in their own blog or essay or article, making it look like they wrote that section.

Another example: Someone takes a poem (or song lyrics, or a song) that is still under copyright and presents it as if they wrote it.

Another example: Someone finds a piece of art on Tumblr (under copyright) and passes it off as theirs.

You can plagiarise something without it being a copyright violation.
If someone took several paragraphs out of a much older book – say, one written around 1900 – and put that in their essay or article without any indication someone else wrote it, that would still be plagiarism, but because the book is out of copyright, it is not a copyright violation.

You can have a copyright violation without plagiarism.
On the other hand, someone could copy a section from a book, say it came from the book, and if it was a big enough or central enough part of the work they were taking it from, that could still be a copyright violation, even though you identified where it was from. (I say ‘could’ here because there’s several factors involved. We’ll get to that in the post on fair use.)

Citation is how we avoid plagiarism.
Basically, citation is the formal term for “Say where you got this from.” There are lots of different citation formats and details, but those are details. What matters is identifying what material is yours, and what you got from other places and people.

Fair use:

One obvious question that comes up around now is “so when is it okay to share parts of a work with other people?”

If you’re talking about a particular work, you might want to quote a bit so you can say “This is the bit that confuses me” or “This is a really great bit.” People doing research into a topic might want to compare different parts – say, different translations of the same section of text, or different perspectives on the same historical event. And some of us really love parody songs, filk, and other forms of music that take pieces of music and change words or change perspective.

These all fall into an area that is called ‘fair use’ – basically, the idea that there are some uses that are beneficial to the community, or encourage artistic, scientific, or intellectual creativity and growth. Copyright law recognises that these are important, so there are some options for sharing things.

They are complicated sorts of options, though – it’s not as simple as saying “I want to share this, so I can.”

Anyone who tells you that (about copyrighted works) doesn’t understand copyright, so be dubious about other things they say about sharing files, copyright, or related topics.

I’ll have a whole post on fair use coming in part 5.

Idea / expression distinction:

This is an important concept in copyright law. Basically, an idea is not something you can copyright. However, the expression of that idea can be copyrighted – the specific words or images or other aspects you choose.

Think of it like this: the ideas behind a story or myth (the Descent of Inanna, Prometheus bringing fire to humanity, your Great Flood myth of choice) aren’t something you can copyright.

But your particular retelling of it (as soon as it was in a fixed form) would be copyrighted in most cases. The words you chose, the descriptions you used, the order you might put parts of the story in, all of those things create a unique creative work.

The same thing is true of photographs: the idea of an eclipse, for example, isn’t something anyone can copyright. But individual people framing and taking photographs of it, or making artwork that reflects, or writing a poem about it, all of those could potentially be copyrightable works.

Now we’ve gotten those terms and concepts out of the way, Tuesday’s post (part 3) will be about what is under copyright and what isn’t.