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You've been working on a poem for three months. After searching within the depths of your soul to create what you think is a masterpiece, you post it on a literary Web site. Then, a few weeks later, you come across another site, and guess what… your poem's on it. A line or two has been changed and there's no mention of your name. How does that make you feel?
"I resent copying of our content without providing credit," says Vikas Kamat, who operates
Kamat's Potpourri, a Web directory of Indian blogs (online journals). Kamat's problem is echoed by bloggers and Web contributors the world over. People are increasingly using the Web to publish not only their literary and artistic works, but also their thoughts and ideas. Blogs, free hosts, community boards and writing and poetry sites allow people to express themselves about anything and everything from Kant to Kashmir.
But how safe is their content? What legal rights do bloggers have over their original contributions? How can they protect what is truly and exclusively theirs?
"The Indian Copyright Act protects the expression of the idea in a literary, artistic, musical or dramatic work, as well as the work that goes into its creation and the originality of expression," says Tushar Ajinkya, a consultant at DSK Legal, specialising in IT matters. "A copyright comes into being the moment the pen leaves the paper." Or in this instance, when the fingertip leaves the keyboard.
The Act has been recently amended to extend protection to computer programmes, which have been classified as literary work. Practically speaking, however, Ajinkya believes that monitoring copyright infringement over the Web has become increasingly difficult: "If you could trace the person infringing your copyright, you could possibly take action against him. This is very difficult though, as the Internet can be accessed from anywhere in the world and one has no control over what a person does over his PC."
However, if you do manage to locate the person violating your copyright, how do you deal with him? “You can file a suit for infringement of copyright,” says Ajinkya, “You can claim damages and even get the person imprisoned for not less than six months, extended to three years and fined for not less than Rs 50,000, extended to two lakhs”. He adds that should the person commit a second offence, the penalty would include a jail term of one year, extended to three years, and a fine of one lakh, extended to two lakh rupees.
Unfortunately, not everyone keeps an eagle eye over his or her intellectual material. Some bloggers and Web masters are considerably lax, according to Sreekanth, a regular blogger. He believes that a lot of people tend to ramble while writing and hence do not produce any concrete work. They therefore don't care if their work is copied. However, he strongly feels that original content on blogs and sites should be protected by copyright.
Ashish Asgekar, who has his own site, subscribes to a different philosophy: "I believe the WWW is about free speech and information. Material should be free for individual use. As long as the use remains personal or educational, I don't mind anyone using material from my site."
The law condones this stance. Ajinkya cites Section 52 of the Indian Copyright Act, a provision known as 'fair use'. "If a work is used for private research, criticism or review, or for education or reproduction in an exam, it does not amount to violation of copyright as such use amounts to fair use of the copyrighted work," he says.
Free hosts like Tripod and Angelfire, as well as blogging hubs like BlogSpot also reserve the right to quote or reproduce portions of content to promote their sites on a 'fair use' basis.
Kamat encourages 'fair use' of his blogs. "I routinely provide permission for reuse and have even set up a request form for this," he says.
But he believes a more serious hazard to and by bloggers is bandwidth stealing. "This occurs when a site publisher serves content without hosting it. It is stealing because they are serving someone else's content without credits or acknowledgements," he says. "I sometimes use technology to prevent bandwidth theft. Bloggers are especially guilty of this violation."
Another issue is that of territorial jurisdiction. Sreekanth, who lives outside India, is confused about the form of legal justice he would receive in case of a violation. "While writing, I'm not physically in India nor is my site hosted in there. But I am an Indian citizen. Which laws would apply?"
According to Ajinkya, the question of territorial jurisdiction when dealing with copyright infringement online is of importance, especially since classical geographical boundaries do not exist over the Internet.
In all matters involving intellectual property, Ajinkya deems it advisable to use a '©' symbol or the word 'copyright' along with the year of copyright with respect to the work, for instance, '© 2002 DSK Legal. All Rights reserved', so that people realise the author claims copyright. Mohit Garg from New Delhi agrees: "If I put any personal creations, like my paintings, poetry or original photographs on my site, I'd definitely put a copyright notice at the bottom."
However, Ajinkya cautions that apart from serving as a warning, this notice doesn't actually stop copyright violations. "The only thing that a copyright notice does is tell the world that a copyright is claimed in the work by the author and they should contact the author of the work to publish anything on it."
Technically speaking, producers of original works on the Web have little control over what is being copied. Moreover, many personal homepage creators and bloggers don't feel their work is important enough to warrant complete protection from copying. Like Garg says, "If I find my work being copied, I'd post feedback on chat forums. But I don't think I'd take legal action unless my work is really original and valuable."
With the increase in blogging forums, independent site contributions, chat rooms and discussions boards, users are more aware than ever of their rights over their works. And with the Indian Copyright Act, which Ajinkya views as one of the better pieces of copyright legislation in the world in terms of protection and the remedy offered for copyright infringement, they seem to be safe - at least for the moment.