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  1. Aug 30, 2004 #1
    Dear Greg Bernhardt,

    The following letter is an open and public letter directed soley to Greg Bernhardt and warrants public review so that all viewers are made aware of the potential consequences of submitting any comments to this web-site. I respectfully request that no other members of this forum respond to this open letter.

    Your effectively hidden statement on copyrights... "All content posted on this site is copyrighted to Physics Forums" ... is a problem. I just learned of this statement about 10 minutes ago after interacting with members of this site for the past 1-2 months. Based on the choice of words written down, the manner, and the location of this statement in a sub-section called General and not in the sub-section called Copyrights, I have written this letter in hopes of resolving what appears to be a very significant problem.

    Had I read this statement prior to registering I would never have registered. In my eyes, this is a deceptive business practice, not worthy of a site that appears to be academic in nature. Only businesses or people in business, be it industry or academia, make any claims about copyrights.

    I would never knowingly or willingly grant anyone any sort of copyrights to anything that I write down, and I deny that I have done so by simply using this site. I have signed nothing that transfers any level of copyrights to anyone or any group about anything that I write down and submit to this Physics Forum.

    Simply stating that all content is copyrighted to Physics Forum is, as far as I understand from copyright law, not legally binding.

    I urge you to remove that phrase and to replace it with one that states that "All content generated by the owners of Physics Forum are copyrighted by, and that all contributions to the website remain the property and exclusive copyright of the contributor ..." This is a suitable statement for a site of this nature.

    If you decide to maintain your stance, then I recommend that you include an obvious and easy to see statement of your copyright claim at the very top of every page, and that you further request each new member to relinquish all copyrights to anything that any one contributes to this forum by returning a form with full name, a physical address and an e-mail address, even if it is temporary . This is a fair business practice.

    I look forward to hearing your response to most serious matter in this public forum and not in any Private Messages.

    With best regards,
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2004 #2


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    The copyrights which PF holds are typical for most web-fora that I know of.

    It is used to keep other webmasters from simply copying everything which was posted here and putting it on their own site. (This has happened to us before... twice, IIRC).

    There also is a copyright notice on each page (at the bottom)

  4. Aug 30, 2004 #3
    I believe that as soon as you sign up to be a member you are hereby giving the web forum you signed up for copyright over everything you write.

    In a way it also protects you because when somebody tries to plagiarize your work then the forum can make a justified claim for you.
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2004
  5. Aug 30, 2004 #4


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    Good point. As you and all of our wonderful members hopefully know, we're not out to steal posts and discredit posters -- the copyrights are in place simply to protect the information contained on the site from being abused by others.

    - Warren
  6. Aug 30, 2004 #5
    From Cornell School of Law:

    I find the last paragraph really tricky. Since everything posted in a forum can be classified as concept, principle or idea then what right does anybody have to claim copyright over it? just something to ponder on.
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2004
  7. Aug 30, 2004 #6


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    Copyrights protect words only. If I write up a book describing how to build a machine that will make you a billionaire, and then copyright the book, the copyright protects only the language in the book -- not the idea described by that language. If I wanted to protect the design of the machine, I would have to patent it.

    - Warren
  8. Aug 30, 2004 #7
    Okay, that makes sense
  9. Aug 30, 2004 #8
    The original purpose for that statement goes back a few years. We enacted it when we started distributing archive cds for funding. It protected us against members suing us for selling their content. Perhaps we can rethink the purpose of it now and revise or delete it all together. I will get back to you on this matter.
  10. Aug 30, 2004 #9


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    If someone is concerned about maintaining a copyright to work, then it would be imprudent to post it on a public forum until it is protected anyway. The same goes for patentable ideas. Patent laws (and probably copyright laws too) differ from country to country, but in most cases, once you've made your ideas public knowledge, there is a very finite time in which you can still file for patent protection without forfeiting those rights.
  11. Aug 31, 2004 #10
    Perhaps you can make a sticky on US Copyright Law explaining
    what is considered acceptable, why PF holds such copyright on posts and replies, what is protected by copyright and what isn't, etc..
  12. Sep 1, 2004 #11


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    I've been meaning to say something about this also, though my guess was that the original reasoning was indeed similar to what Greg mentions above.

    However, there seem to be a lot of cases where the copyright statement becomes fantistically ambiguous. For example, if someone puts a piece of writing on their own website with a copyright notice and then posts it here, what does that mean? If they don't put quotes around their writing they've somehow transferred copyright to this site? Or is it then a copyright violation? I can also imagine people editing some of their posts here into posts on a blog or some such. How would that work?

    Perhaps, what needs to be stated is the precise purposes the site owners imagine the material being used for. What if sometime in the future, someone with less integrity than the current owners ends up with title to the material here, and starts making weird claims on people's work? Stranger things have happened.

    Strewing about blanket legal statements that can be interpreted to apply to a much wider context than the original intent could be considered irresponsible in certain situations. While I would be very surprised if the copyright statement was made with any deceptive or pernicious intent, that does not necessarily prevent it being used for such purposes if the limits of its applicability are not clearly stated.

    Ick, well, my statement here seems a bit muddled -- I hope the main idea gets through. I would like also to reiterate that my intent here is not to direct any accusations against anyone associated with PF.
  13. Sep 1, 2004 #12
    I believe if it was written originally from another site the author cannot provide the article in its entirety and is only allowed to put some parts of it and "in quotes".

    Good question. If they don't put quotes around the writing the copyright is still from the original site they posted to.
  14. Sep 1, 2004 #13
    Copyright Law and the US-PTO

    Some Background info:
    Several years ago, I used a lawyer to patent a large database of XPS spectra. The lawyers, who were supposed to do the work, could not decide which category my database fell under. After reading the copyright definitions, I sorted out the type, applied and was issued a US registered copyright. I submitted a hard disc drive including all spectra in Binary and ASCII form along with a software to view the spectra. I also had to submit paper copies of the first and last 25 copies of the spectra. Total cost was about $5K.

    A "registered" copyright is the dominant copyright in the case of a copyright conflict over 100% identical "work". In the situation where one person (Person #1) wrote a book. he/she holds "original" copyright, but let's imagine that another person (Person #2) made an exact copy of that "original" work and submitted it to the US-PTO one month after he made his photo-copy. Let's imagine that Person #1 has NO proof that he/she made that book. Proof can be a dated sales receipt, a notary public registration, or similar things. In this situation Person #2 will win any copyright challenge.

    For each violation of a copyright, the violator has to pay $10,000.

    Copyright does not hold over ideas or priniciples if they are not written down. Once an idea or a principle is written down on paper or nowadays in binary or ascii, that idea or prinicple has an "original" copyright. Exact duplication of the wording is a copyright violation.

    Derivative works, which are compilations or partial inclusion of original complete works, are also covered by copyright law. To avoid being in conflict, the author who uses exact wording from another author must quote the original source in some manner. Simple quotation marks without recognizing the source is not valid. The current style used in PF is, if people use the HTML [name quote] [/quote], style should be safe and maintain the copyrights of the author, not the PF.

    Exact copies of images, tables, pictures, drawings, charts etc are violations of copyright. To avoid being in conflict, you must retype or redraw or in some obvious way produce a "new" original that will have new features. You still need to quote/reference the original author, but you can sell that table, image, drawing or picture. Photographs are more troublesome because it is difficult to modify enough of the pixels to say you have not simply copies the original photo.

    The PF can use whatever has been contributed as long as it quotes the original source. If PF attempts to reproduce exact wording, even just 3 words long, and pretend that it is the original work of PF owner(s), then that would constitute a violation of copyright law since PF does not have any written or binary proof that copyright ownership was transfered to the owner(s) of PF.

    If PF were ever to publish a review or dump out a copy of its contents and try to sell it or to use it to promote the use of this website, then PF must reference each and every copyright holder or obtain legal proof that copyrights have been transferred.

    Simply stating in plain and obvious view that contributors agree by using this site to transfer their copyrights to PF does not, based on all that I know. constitute legal proof of copyright transfer. A judge would rule that sort of statement as meaningless and may suggest to the defendant to take action against PF. Need to consult a lawyer on this subtlety.

    If PF wants to claim it is a non-profit organization and not a business that it actually and legally is despite claims otherwise, then it must file with the state to be declared a non-profit organization or it must be declared as part of a sole proprietary owner business which means the owner has his own small business and that all money is part of his/her total income. By taking money of any sort, called a donation or whatever, the PF is considered to be a profit-based business. No one cares if you lose all your money. Business is business, and PF is currently operating as a business, and should be filing taxes as such either under the owner's name or as an independent corporation. In many states the fee to register is a one time fee and is $50-$1,000.

    I hope this clarifies the reasons that I wrote my original letter.
  15. Sep 1, 2004 #14


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    At best, I think the only content that would legally hold up as falling within the copyrights of this site would be the code that Greg and Warren put into setting up the forum. I don't think there would be any protection at all for the individual posts of the members here, either for PhysicsForums to have claim to it, or for the person posting it, other than it might provide proof of when the idea was originally presented and the person writing it was the original author of it should someone else come along and try to publish a book compiling the content of the site without giving credit or paying royalties.

    The bigger issue is ensuring there are no copyright violations here of other people's protected work. As What_Are_Electrons posted, we need to be very careful of how much or what is reproduced here of published work. I know the admins and mentors do remove posts that do not properly cite their sources, but some may be missed. The issue of leaving off quotes when citing work is not one of transferring copyright to this site, but of plagiarism of the original work. With figures and pictures reproduced in their entirety, permission would need to be obtained from the copyright holder (hence the phrase that appears in publications "reproduced with permission of..." Because publishing my own work requires a transfer of copyright to the journal I'm publishing in, even to use my own figure in another article (i.e., a review article), I need to notify the second publisher that the figure has previously been published so they can obtain the proper permissions, or else I need to modify it enough to make it different from the original.

    When I give presentations at conferences and want to show someone else's figure as background to my talk, I will redraw it and stylize it my own way (even if it's just changing the colors of the bars in the graph and increasing the font on the axes) and cite it as "modified from..." and the citation. Theoretically, there's usually an exception in most journals for educational purposes, but I try to play it safe outside the classroom.

    Though, I'd like some clarification regarding this site's policies on this too. I've been quoting abstracts from a number of publications as a tool for discussion here, with the sources cited. I choose to stick with abstracts since they are usually freely available to view outside the publisher's sites through a number of sources, but what about when I quote small excerpts from the text? Should I skip quoting and just paraphrase the content? At what point is it too much? Is there any sort of dividing line to say that you've posted too long of an excerpt or quote, or too many quotes from one source that cumulatively (is that a word?) goes beyond reasonable use and into the realm of copyright violation? There may be some of that going on here without the posters being aware they are committing any wrongdoing since they believe citing the sources is sufficient.
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