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Dangerous Liaisons: Why Networks Theory Supports a Limited Right of Online First Publication
Unformatted Document Text:  Linford D ANGEROUS L IAISONS LSA 2009 DRAFT – DO NOT DISTRIBUTE WITHOUT THE AUTHOR’S PERMISSION reasonably circulate to 6,000 readers, and publishers who appreciate this dynamic can make appropriate deals with authors, and price their product accordingly. Networks theory teaches us that the dynamic of online exposure is significantly different. Unlike a good joke, or an interesting bit of gossip, which will travel one or two degrees of separation in most social circles, a particularly compelling piece of gossip in an email form will get widespread dissemination, perhaps in endless circular patters. 111 Copyright scholar Joseph Liu notes that while U.S. copyright law is premised in part on protecting the right of members of a social group to share copyrighted works with one another in familiar ways, such as lending books and movies, making mixtapes, the internet dynamic has changed things. 112 Under physical distribution rules, online music providers like Grokster and Napster might have fallen within an exception to copyright liability, based on the fact that they simply facilitated the type of music sharing that people engage in with members of their social group. The Internet, and tools like Facebook, allow one’s social network to become literally as big as the world, and the cozy rules that protected sharing among limited social circles don’t scale particularly well. One way to understand how a rightsholder’s reasonable expectations about the risks associated with the physical distribution of a work is to compare interlibrary loan, which may be the most affordable and rapid way of physically disseminating printed materials freely (or at least affordably), with its online counterpart. Assuming that 250 libraries each purchased a single copy of the same title. Under the first sale doctrine, 113 the author cannot prevent libraries from lending the book, and must face the reality that people will read a book that they did not buy. Authors and publishers have no claim under the law to prevent this lending. If there is widespread interest in a book, like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, a library might purchase 5 copies for each location, and hold each borrower to a 2 week time limit to make sure the next borrower gets an opportunity to read the book. Each library would be able to share copies of this book with roughly 130 readers a year. That number will expand for each copy a library purchases, until the supply of Harry Potter novels exceeds the demand, at which point the libraries will sell off excess copies. Online dissemination is different: if a digital version of the Harry Potter novel exists, because the digital version is a public good, i.e., not restricted to a physical embodiment in print format, a single copy can be effortlessly disseminated to all interested readers, so long as there is a connection. 111 For example, I have received an urgent email from several different people regarding a piece of legislation threatening to end public broadcasts of religious music, begging for immediate action. Petition to Ban Religious Broadcasting, S NOPES . COM , last updated Feb. 18, 2008, online at http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/fcc.asp (viewed March 30, 2008). The email has been circulating since at least 1996, getting slightly modified as time rolls on, similar to the way viruses are modified by different groups of hackers. 112 Joseph Liu, Copyright Law’s Theory of the Consumer, 44 B.C.L. R EV . 397, 412-413 (2003) (arguing that copyright law has built in social network theory intuitions into the first sale doctrine and protections for private as opposed to public performances). 113 17 U.S.C. § 109. Joseph Liu argues that the first sale doctrine has developed social networks theory intuitions, in the way that it limits sharing that is “lees communicative in nature and begins to harm incentives. The first sale doctrine is thus limited in the case of recorded music and computer software, out of concerns with piracy.” Liu, supra note 112 at 412. 19

Authors: Linford, Jake.
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background image
Linford
D
ANGEROUS
 L
IAISONS
LSA 2009
DRAFT – DO NOT DISTRIBUTE WITHOUT THE AUTHOR’S PERMISSION
reasonably circulate to 6,000 readers, and publishers who appreciate this dynamic can make 
appropriate deals with authors, and price their product accordingly. 
Networks theory teaches us that the dynamic of online exposure is significantly different. 
Unlike a good joke, or an interesting bit of gossip, which will travel one or two degrees of 
separation in most social circles, a particularly compelling piece of gossip in an email form will 
get widespread dissemination, perhaps in endless circular patters.
 Copyright scholar Joseph 
Liu notes that while U.S. copyright law is premised in part on protecting the right of members of 
a social group to share copyrighted works with one another in familiar ways, such as lending 
books and movies, making mixtapes, the internet dynamic has changed things.
 Under physical 
distribution rules, online music providers like Grokster and Napster might have fallen within an 
exception to copyright liability, based on the fact that they simply facilitated the type of music 
sharing that people engage in with members of their social group. The Internet, and tools like 
Facebook, allow one’s social network to become literally as big as the world, and the cozy rules 
that protected sharing among limited social circles don’t scale particularly well.
One way to understand how a rightsholder’s reasonable expectations about the risks 
associated with the physical distribution of a work is to compare interlibrary loan, which may be 
the most affordable and rapid way of physically disseminating printed materials freely (or at least 
affordably), with its online counterpart.
Assuming that 250 libraries each purchased a single copy of the same title. Under the first 
sale doctrine,
 the author cannot prevent libraries from lending the book, and must face the 
reality that people will read a book that they did not buy. Authors and publishers have no claim 
under the law to prevent this lending. If there is widespread interest in a book, like J.K. 
Rowling’s Harry Potter series, a library might purchase 5 copies for each location, and hold each 
borrower to a 2 week time limit to make sure the next borrower gets an opportunity to read the 
book. Each library would be able to share copies of this book with roughly 130 readers a year. 
That number will expand for each copy a library purchases, until the supply of Harry Potter 
novels exceeds the demand, at which point the libraries will sell off excess copies. Online 
dissemination is different: if a digital version of the Harry Potter novel exists, because the digital 
version is a public good, i.e., not restricted to a physical embodiment in print format, a single 
copy can be effortlessly disseminated to all interested readers, so long as there is a connection. 
111
 For example, I have received an urgent email from several different people regarding a piece 
of legislation threatening to end public broadcasts of religious music, begging for immediate 
action. Petition to Ban Religious Broadcasting, S
NOPES
.
COM
, last updated Feb. 18, 2008, online at 
 (viewed March 30, 2008). The email has been 
circulating since at least 1996, getting slightly modified as time rolls on, similar to the way 
viruses are modified by different groups of hackers. 
112
 Joseph Liu, Copyright Law’s Theory of the Consumer, 44 B.C.L. R
EV
. 397, 412-413 (2003) 
(arguing that copyright law has built in social network theory intuitions into the first sale 
doctrine and protections for private as opposed to public performances).
113
 17 U.S.C. § 109.  Joseph Liu argues that the first sale doctrine has developed social networks 
theory intuitions, in the way that it limits sharing that is “lees communicative in nature and 
begins to harm incentives.  The first sale doctrine is thus limited in the case of recorded music 
and computer software, out of concerns with piracy.”  Liu, supra note 112 at 412.
19


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