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#1 Jon


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 09:27 AM

I have a what-if question.

Let's say a person (Joe) has been a member of a forum for several years and has made hundred's of posts. Many of the posts contain links and information that Joe no longer has on his computer but knew he could find with a quick search on the forum.

Now let's say Joe and the site owner had a disagreement and the owner of the forum deleted Joe as a member and blocked his IP from the site.

What rights does Joe have in retrieving the information in his posts from the forum?

Can he demand the site owner provide him copies of his posts? Can he demand that all posts he made be deleted from the forum?

Who has the rights to the information in those posts?


#2 rcjordan


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 12:58 PM

Some forums clarify the copyright issue in their terms of service, saying that they own or share copyright. Most, like C8, at least make a reference to how they'll respond to request to delete a past member's posts:

"Please remember that if you should decide to unsubscribe, neither you, nor we can delete your posts."

#3 Adrian


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 01:09 PM

Talking from our point of view, if someone does something to warrant being banned, and having their IP blocked, I can't see us being especially keen on the idea of then supplying said person with a copy of all the posts they ever made. Why should we? That person would have come to our site. Contributed to whats here, and then abused the hospitality of the forum.

As rcjordan mentioned, we have the statement about not deleting posts for just that kind of eventuality. If someone who had made hundreds of posts suddenly wanted to delete them all, it would cause all sorts of confusion and information holes in the threads where those posts were made. That's of no benefit what so ever.

Abuse the hospitality of a forum and take what comes to you. If that means you lose access to posts you made, personally, I think that's your own fault.

#4 Respree


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 01:16 PM

I don't know the (legal) answer to this question, but I think it really comes down to who 'owns' the material. As mentioned above, generally speaking, forums will ask members to agree to certain conditions at the time members are asked register. This statement or separate rules state the terms and conditions under which both parties understand what will and will not be done with their posts.

If you haven't done so already, this incident should prompt some action on your part to make these things be known up front so that you have something to point to when these unpleasant, but probably inevitable situations occur.

#5 Nick_W


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 01:30 PM

Would it be rude to sidetrack a little? I hope not....

What about this scenario:

A website regularly quotes posts from other websites (of course im talking about mine..) what kind of copyright or TOS's should I be looking at?

At present I just have a standard copyright for the site, but that doesnt seem entirely correct as in almost every post i quote another topic from another forum....


#6 rcjordan


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 01:49 PM

Nick, read Mark Carey's blog re googleguys says, particularly the comments re fair use.


Standard Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, I just tell them what to do.

#7 Nick_W


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 02:05 PM

You mean this one RC?

I haven't heard anyone mention it: What about "fair use" provisions of copyright law?

Mark isn't duplicating all of WMW, nor is he duplicating all of GG comments.

WMW is a publicly-accessible forum; you do not have to pay to read what GG says, and you don't have to even register as a member to read them. The only requirements are a browser and 'net connection.

I'd wager that most courts would say that it is an unreasonable expectation to not be quoted in a (relevant?) forum (forum - in the broad sense of the word), when an individual makes a noteworthy statement in a public(ly accessible) forum.

So, is the standard 'all rights reserved' copyright ok for me or should i make some statement about fair use? - i know none of us are lawyers, dont worry lol... but i'd certainly appreciate some informed advice...



#8 rcjordan


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 02:14 PM

Yeah, you aren't copying whole threads or lifting content without attribution. I'm thinking you are doing no more than quoting the original source.

#9 Nick_W


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 02:25 PM

OK, good enough for me, thanks RC.

Facinating topic, thanks to Jon for bringing it up!


#10 Jon


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 04:25 PM

Thanks for the answers guys,

I wanted to get some general feedback before I described what happened to me.

I am the person who got banned and blocked.

I was a member of a Rottweiler Forum since 2000 when it first started. I considered the owner of the site my friend as we had exchanged e-mails, talked on the forum chat, and went back and forth with PM's over the years. I had over a thousand posts where I had shared my training ideas, links, etc.

I decided to start my own Rottweiler Forum and before I opened it to the public, I wrote her an e-mail telling her about it because I wanted her to hear about it from me.

She never answered my e-mail and the next day I try to pull up her forum and I am denied......my IP has been blocked and my name and password have been removed.

I really wish I had access to get all the links and stuff I had posted over the years.

I was blocked and banned out of spite for starting my own forum. I guess I have no recourse.


#11 rcjordan


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 04:39 PM

Jon, I assume it's a private forum? There are things you can do re IP and user agent that may get you in to gather your posts.

>I had over a thousand posts where I had shared

Welcome to the club, imo there's not much you can do about it. I've been banned a few times myself (and never for a TOS violation).

#12 Jon


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 04:59 PM

Quote by rcjordan:
"Jon, I assume it's a private forum? There are things you can do re IP and user agent that may get you in to gather your posts."

I can change my IP and pull up the site....that's how I know my name/password has been removed.

But she has about half of the forums (sections) protected from view from non-members.

I have thought about either having a friend copy the stuff I want or using a friends name/password to get in and get the stuff myself.......but I really don't want to get anyone else banned.

I may end up getting a yahoo or hotmail e-mail, changing my IP, register with a fake name, and get the stuff I want..........It's just such a pain in the butt to have to go through all this over something so petty.

I was kinda hoping I had some kind of rights to my posts.


#13 bragadocchio


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 06:51 PM

Property law is odd.

One of the papers I wrote for law school was about Antarctica. I choose the topic because the international treaty governing the continent was up for renewal, and it had been one of the few places in the world where there seemed to be a lot of agreement that it remain a peaceful place, used only for scientific purposes.

But some of the big multinationals were grumbling about the possibility of mining under the surface.

There's no technical knowledge about what it would take to actually mine, and take advantage of the resources under the ice shelf, but there's some agreement that if the continents spread the way we believed that they did that the land under all of that frozen water is probably rich in some rare minerals.

Fortunately, the renewal of the treaty passed, and the continent is empty of heavy drilling equipment.

While there was agreement that everyone involved in the treaty had some rights over what happens to Antarctica, there's a lot of disagreement over why they have those rights.

Some state that they have a claim because they were the first to discover the continent. Others because they maintain people there year round and have possession of it. Still others point to a globe, and trace lines on the globe from the widths of their countries to the pole, and say that slice of the land belongs to them.

There are other theories, too. Regardless of who is right or wrong, there's an agreement that the land is ecologically fragile, and that the chance to peacefully co-exist there and use it for scientific studies may be the best for everyone. So under the treaty, the land is treated is a commons, owned by everyone, and by no one. And protected for everyone's benefit.

Many of us have similar property in our front yards - on our sidewalks - where people can stroll safe from traffic. Some areas require the property owner to maintain the sidewalk, and there may be some limits to the use of the walk. But people are usually free to stroll down that pedestrian pathway.

There are a number of different property theories regarding oceans, airways, and mineral rights under ground, too. Some of those areas are regulated more heavily when they are within the territorial jurisdiction of a country. And many countries treat those areas differently.

Property law on the Web

The internet is a wild mixture of law, of regulations and justifications, of economic ownership and wild free-for-all.

The web has very few geographical borders. There are some countries that have limited access to the web, either by keeping the country free of pipelines to it, or by filtering it. When you write something that may be acceptable in most countries, it could possibly be illegal in one or two.

Usenet is a good example. Who owns the posts on usenet? Who has the rights or abilities to remove older posts from usenet?

Questions about ownership of posts on a forum

When it comes to a forum, you could say that a post belongs to the person or people who started the forum, and pays for the hosting and domain name, and who maintains it.

But if you looked at it that way, people might not want to make posts on your forum, and share their words there. Especially if they thought that they couldn't take what they had written, and use it somewhere else - in a book or magazine or on another site.

Should the laws of where the server for the forum matter? Sometimes they do. Should the location of the member who is posting on the forum matter? Or someone who is written about?

Who is responsible for what is posted on a forum when the material may be obscene, or libelous? What rights should a forum owner have to remove posts? Especially when those posts violate the forum rules or terms of service, or the acceptable use policies of the web host?

What rights does someone have in their own posts? What rights does the forum have in keeping a body of posts that someone has placed on the forum?

I would think that if someone had a lot of posts here, and they wanted copies of them, we would provide some type of access to them. If someone had a lot of posts, and wanted to remove all of them, that would provide considerable gaps in the forum, and diminish the value of the forums tremendously.

That's part of the reason why we included a statement in the forum rules that we wouldn't remove posts en mass. Contract is one way of claiming some ownership in property, and by participating in a forum, you've agreed to share your words with others.

If you make a post, and you want to edit it, or change it, that is something that the forum software allows you to do. That's probably true at a lot of forums.

Should a forum owner block or ban someone from a forum, and from access to posts that were made and are clearly within the terms of service of the forum, haven't violated any laws, and their access to them probably doesn't involve any risk to the forum? Probably not. But sometimes people over react, and try to do what is they think is right for their forums. Or they may act unreasonably.

Using other people's words from forums

Should someone be able to come along and copy part of a post, even though they didn't write it? There are a lot of different factors that go into looking at the "fair use" of something written by someone else. Often a using a quote, and adding some commentary are within the bounds of fair use in most countries.

The idea behind copyright is to give people an incentive to write, and possibly profit from, or gain credit for what they write. Attributing something written by someone else to the correct author, and not trying to make the claim, or make an appearance that you were the author helps when it comes to showing that there is a fair use of the material.

Only copying enough to give people a taste of the material, rather than the whole thing, is another. I'd start moving away from legal information towards legal advice if I were to try to define a specific use, or give someone approval of a specific practice. But the US Copyright Office, and a number of other easily found sources do a nice job of describing fair use.

So who owns the post on a forum?

Well, you do if you are the poster.

But so does the community that you wrote the post for, and so do the people who try to keep those posts within the bounds of the forum rules.

The reasons why they might claim ownership in one way or another may differ. Sort of like my example of Antarctica above.

Regardless of who the person is claiming some ownership, there are shared rights and shared obligations. The writer writes knowing that the forum would be damaged if he or she tried to remove all posts they made. The writer should have some access to their posts, provided they were within the rules of the forum - and those rules should be applied fairly.

People reading the posts have some rights in the ideas expressed in them, and a limited right to share some of those words. So, the words belong to the writer, to the community that he or she shares them with, and to the owners of the forum - all within reasonable bounds.

For a forum to work correctly, to benefit everyone who participates, there is some relinquishing of some rights and some ownership all around - a mutual agreement like the Antarctic Treaty.

#14 ConversionRater


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 07:02 PM

I haven't looked into it legally, but I think the common thought is that something posted is owned by the web site it's posted on. So if you post your thoughts in a forum, the business hosting the forum has the rights to delete or use that content.

Of course, it all probably depends on what kind of terms of service the forum declares when you sign up.

#15 bragadocchio


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 07:13 PM

I think that most people would expect that if they posted something to a forum, and also wanted to post the same thing to their own web site, that they would and should be able to do that.

#16 Woz


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 07:27 PM

Despite many misunderstandings in this area, the Law is quite clear and is neither changed nor novated by the "Internet".

Member's posts come under Copyright Law. Who owns the copyright in the post is dependant on one thing only - employment status.

1) If you are employed by a company and invent/create something in the course of carrying out your employment duties, then ownership of that invention/creation rests in the employing company.

2) If you invent/create something as an individual, then ownership in that invention/creation rests with you.

Hence, those not in the employ of a particular forum or owning company thereof own copyright in their posts within that forum, whereas those who are employed by said forum or owning company thereof do not own the copyright in their posts in that forum, the owning company does.

Important Note! Copyright cannot be sold, it can only be assigned or transferred to legal recipients upon death. Hence, anyone stating in their conditions that anything you post in their forum belongs to the forum owners is making an incorrect statement.

Quoting sections of posts in other media (fora, newsletters, etc.) is covered by Fair Use as long as the snippet is small and cited correctly. Of course the line between small and not small is somewhat hazy. Unfortunately, many forum owners do not realise this Fair Usage status of such quotations and tend to nuke them rather fast, although I suspect this has more to do with avoiding promotion off-site than anything else.

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice, simply knowledge gained as one who earn their income through copyright in created works.


#17 bragadocchio


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Posted 15 October 2004 - 07:49 PM

Hi Woz,

Welcome to the forums.

Work for hire may belong to the company that employs the creator of the work, if the work is produced within the responsibilities of the person employed.

But, I'm not sure that I agree with some of your statements.

A good starting point about the laws regarding copyright in the US can be found on this page from the US copyright office:

Copyright Basics (Circular 1)

For instance:

Any or all of the copyright owner's exclusive rights or any subdivision of those rights may be transferred, but the transfer of exclusive rights is not valid unless that transfer is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner's duly authorized agent. Transfer of a right on a nonexclusive basis does not require a written agreement.

There's more about transfer of copyright, including the instance you point out about assignment or transfer upon death.

Other state and national laws may also provide other limitations or rights upon people holding copyrights, and the transfer of those rights. For instance, minors may be limited when it comes to transferring rights to copyrights because of the laws of the jurisdiction where they are located.

But you raise a very good point. Anyone interested in making absolutely sure about copyrights and copyright status of a work should consult an attorney.

#18 Dodger


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Posted 18 October 2004 - 04:33 AM

I think Copyright is pretty much covered here already. As someone had mentioned, it is not ownable. It only applies to the rights of the individual who made the post. Mostly, nobody can use their post outside of what is considered to be Fair Use.

The original question, as I read it, is who owns the post ... or more aptly, who has control over it's deletion, editting, or even not allowing either of these actions to be used by the original poster.

The Forum Owner has control over all electronic actions over any post made. Estoppel laws will afford them this right. Much like the printed newspaper works in some ways....if a writer reports a fact incorrectly, they do not just go back and pull all the papers and erase it. They print a retraction.

Forum Owners have the right to not allow any backeditting of any posts if they wish. Once something is posted and ensuing posts follow, based on the words of that post -- the changing of the post will alter the chemistry of the thread and place it all out of context. In some cases, backeditting is a tactic used by seedy characters to make somebody look foolish or in a different light.

There are certain responsibilites that go with Forum Ownership. It is much like being the editor of a newspaper. In fact, if you think of a forum as if it were a newspaper, then you can understand a little better. They need to be aware of what is going on in their forum, and take action to correct possible libelous statements that could be made or cut-off a p***ing match that comes up from time to time. And yes, they even have a right to suppress posts that do not agree with their line of thinking ... the poster is a guest writer in other words.

With that said, it is a new area of the law too. Much has still to be argued in courts of law. There is one case about the lawyer who is sueing Yahoo now over them not providing him with the names and addresses of people who called him a ying-yang doo doo head in a public chat room. It is a frivilous case IMO, but it shows you that Forum Owners could come under attack at any time and they have a right to delete, alter, or pursue any action they feel is necessary to avoid such complications.

#19 taphilo


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Posted 27 December 2004 - 07:36 PM

A collary: In the photographic world a new pattern has come up in that people taking photos for the NY Times are now required to sign that they are "for hire" and the copyright of the image is owned by both NYT and the picture taker and neither can charge the other for each occurance of its use. The Times can use it in any of its owned copanies nor can the NY Times stop the photographer from using it elsewhere as they see fit. Each have unlimited rights to use the photo.

Posting in a forum would seen to fall into that category: both the site owner and the poster both have full rights to use the posting as they want without compensation to the other party as a joint copyright owners of the words.

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