Copyright and other Legal Issues

Written by Adok

Most diskmags do not have a Disclaimer, Impressum or Legal Stuff section in which they clearly state who has got what right for the individual parts of the magazine. Hence they are not protected from ripping. From a legal point of view, it would be okay in most countries if someone just took all articles from your diskmag and published them in his own commercial magazine. As long as your diskmag is only spread within the demoscene, that is a minor problem. The scene is very aware of thieves, and by blacklisting them as rippers and virtually kicking them out of their circles it is a very effective means of preventing stealing intellectual property. But as soon as your magazine has reached a certain popularity, it will surely also find readers from outside the scene. Then it can become important to have a proper disclaimer.

Note: I am by far no expert at international law, and I have hardly had any legal problems with Hugi yet. That is why I am speaking very theoretically and I cannot promise you that the following hints will be sufficient. If you happen to be a lawyer, law student, etc., I would be highly interested in your comments to this article. Perhaps you could even write another article with more details about the legal position of international electronic publications.

In most developed countries, the author of a publication automatically has certain rights. This, however, does not mean that these rights are respected in another country. For an international publication it is therefore important to have at least a copyright note at a central place, usually called Legal Stuff, Disclaimer or Impressum. Copyright is respected in most parts of the world. However, be careful: "(c) Hugi Crew", for instance, is not a proper copyright note. A real copyright note would look like this: "Copyright 1996-1999 by Claus-Dieter Volko". Unfortunately, "(c)" is often mistaken for a valid abbreviation of "Copyright". In fact it isn't, and using it does not protect any of your rights. The only valid abbreviaton is a circle with a "c" in its center. It is also important to specify the year of creation and either a real name or a registered trademark. Furthermore, for some countries the phrase "All rights reserved" is necessary.

Such a simple copyright notice reserves the right to spread your publication and everythig it contains to you. It is not applicable to a freeware diskmag, though, because it would mean spreading the mag via FTP, BBS's or mailswapping would be illegal. Hence, you need an additional note such as: "It is allowed to spread this publication provided it remains unmodified." In the German-speaking countries, for instance, the second half of the sentence would actually be superfluous because it is one of the author's rights to decide whether his work is allowed to be modified. But this probably does not apply to the whole world, hence this remark should always be added. If you like, you can now add other restrictions, such as "it is not allowed to make money with this publication, e.g. by selling it on a commercial CD-ROM".

This should usually be enough to ensure that you have all rights for your publication. If someone now violates these rights, you will be able to point him to your Legal Stuff section. If he still does not apologize nor pay for the damage, if there has been any, you can contact a lawyer in his country in order to check whether this country respects the rights you mentioned in your Legal Stuff section. If it does, you can start a trial against the violator. Of course I am, as I said in the beginning, only theoretically speaking, because nothing like that has ever happened in the diskmag scene. Just because we want to prohibit it from ever happening, this Legal Stuff is important.

There are two other important aspects, though. One of them is responsibility. At least where I live, every publication needs a "V.i.S.d.P." (a person Responsible in the Sense of Pressright). If nothing else is specified, this is the publisher or the (main) editor of the publication. So be careful about what you publish. In extreme cases, you could be made responsible for it. Even if you write in your Legal Stuff section that the authors are responsible for the contents of their texts, you are still responsible for what texts get into your mag.

The other thing is the rights of your writers and other contributors. If you claim all rights regarding your publication for yourself, you will most likely get hardly any support except from your friends, the members of your group and your contacts. The majority of writers is interested in keeping the rights for their intellectual property. On the other hand, it is no good if the rights for various parts of your publication belong to various people. Then they could force you to change your diskmag and release new versions of it.

Hugi solves this problem as follows: The authors keep the rights for their original submissions which they sent to us. At the same instant, however, they give us the right to modify them, mainly for technical reasons. This means that I have all rights for a Hugi issue. Still the authors can get their articles published in other magazines, sell them for money or do whatever they want.

To ensure that the authors do not violate any third-party-rights, also clearly prohibit it in your Legal Stuff, best by stating the legal consequences this might have. The more drastically, the better. It will not prevent everybody from violating third-party-rights (just read the article in Hugi #15 about the ripped graphics DARKflare sent us for Hugi #14), but at least it is a warning.

One last thing: Be careful when you open a web-site. Some popular web-space providers such as Xoom and Yahoo!GeoCities claim certain rights for themselves. So always read the disclaimer or, even better, open your own server or use your friend's one. That's the safest solution.

- articledok^hugi