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June 22, 2005



If only you had such compasion for something that really mattered.


It's "compassion," and what I meant to type was "passion."

Matt Hutson

I'm a science writer, Joe. Currently I write about science for kids. Books just like this one. Writing in clear, exciting language for an impressionable audience is something I'm passionate about, and I think it's something that matters to others too.

As for the copyright issues, isn't it important for kids to have access to the materials they need to become actively engaged in the scientific process at an early age?


What about other experiments? "Suppose you have permission to gather a sample of pond water ..." "Suppose you have permission to place a boiled egg on top of ..." "Suppose you have permission to measure the length of your middle finger ..."

It's a clumsy and redundant usage, and it's interesting that the author of the pamphlet chose to use it only in the context of photocopying.


Posts like this are very frustrating, because they are so pointless.

What's the big deal? Under fair use, kids can photocopy the pitcure for educational purposes with or without permission from VU or Natl Geographic. In Natl Gegraphic's defense, most *adult scientists* don't understand they aren't allowed to photocopy entire journal articles for anything beyond very temporary use.

The difference between this and Ash's examples of gathering pond water and boiling an egg is that the law makes photocopying copyrighted works illegal.

Look, most kids are growing up thinking whatever they can do on the internet must be legal, like downloading music. Sorry, it isn't. It's not even a grey area. Has a single person sued by the MPAA or the RIAA even mounted any sort of defense, let alone a successful one? So in my opinion it's okay if a magazine like Nat'l Geographic wants to subtly raise the issue in kids' mids, esp considering the pretty pictures in NG get photocopied more than most.

You aren't allowed to photocopy pictures from Natl Geographic without permission, unless the copying passes the fair use test. That's all there is to it. Scanning in a neat photo from the national geographic for your computer desktop isn't fair use, it's a federal crime. You can say the law is stupid, whatever helps you sleep at night. Doesn't make the copying less illegal.

But understand that you rationalizing why your particular copyright infringement should be exempt from the law is no different in character than the Enron guys thinking the securities laws didn't apply to them. It's just a different scope. And that shouldn't be the moral moral test. Petty theft and grand theft are both theft.

And here's the point. If the law is stupid, or the corporations have too much power or whatever, what the hell have you done about it?

If the law sucks, petition your elected representatives to change it. If even a tenth of the mp3 downloaders called their congressmen every week to demand copyright reform, this issue would be settled. Instead, they snipe and snark from the cover of their blogs that absolutely no one in a position of power reads or is even aware of. Most senators probably don't rememberthe original Napster, let alone bittorrent, etc. That doesn't mean they are out of touch, it means the "copyfighter" community, whatever the hell that is, has failed to do their job. hey can't help you if they don't understand your position.

Meanwhile, not a day goes by when the RIAA isn't talking to someone on Capitol Hill.


But under fair use it IS perfectly legal for the kid to photocopy the photo without explicit permission. Maybe not an entire paper but a single small excerpt for personal academic use is invariably exempted in most countries.

You might want to take this further and modify the passage to...

"Suppose you have permission to photocopy the picture of Paramecium, which you do under fair use as long as (I'll leave a lawyer to put all of the details in here),..."

THAT would be accurate and pass any legal challenges.




All that I want to say to you, is you give a bunch of bashes towards this post with a whole heap of assumptions and seem to be unable to comprehed.

The fact is that a child is able to copy a photo for educational purposes. That is completely legal. The scary part is that they added that comment. To me, this tells the child that it very well may be illegal. When in fact, for the audience its written for, its completely legal. I highly doubt that the author had reasonable fear that a publishing academic author would photocopy a picture for their book.

Its that we are teetering between a copyright police state and an anarchy. That an author is unable to leave that statement out without fear of being repremanded.

There is a fine line between what should be enforced/investigated and what shouldn't be. If a 5 year old scans a picture of Barney onto his desktop, should the Enforcement Police Bridgade break down the front door of his home and arrest his parents of federal charges? Of course not! You are right, theft is theft... but with theft there is a *true* victim.

If a 5 year old copies a picture of barney and puts it in his wallet, he just broke Federal Laws. But, he wasn't going to buy a wallet sized picture of barney. Heck, he probably would anyway later, because he wants one that is better. Actually, the Barney people are getting free advertising and brand-enforcement.

However, if a 30 year old man makes a million Barney stickers and sells them on the street... that is something that probably needs to be enforced.

Intellectual property is NOT real property. It can't be handled that way. We need to keep an eye on the real issue though... which I think is intent and *true* losses.

If I download an album by Britany Spears just because I'm bored and I don't really like it so I wasn't ever going to listen to it... what did her record company lose?

Once again, I'm not saying copyright anarchy is the key, but I think finding a balence of use and sales and purpose and *true* loss.

Actually, if that pond water is on private land, then that would be illegal.



Criminal copyright law is blind to victims and losses. The issue of losses and damages comes up in civil court. Your example about Britney spears etc may be dead-on and 100% accurate, but they are also irrelevant. It is illegal to download it period, regardless of the actual cost. You still have to stop at a red light even if there are no other cars on the road.

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? For $20, you can buy a DVD copy of a movie that cost $150 million to make. Thiank about that. What the argument is really about is people's desire to get it for nothing, just because technology makes it possible.

There is no copyright police state if you don't want what copyright owners produce. For example, I heard on the radio that Disney called the cops on a handful of guys in LA who made a few pinatas resembling Disney characters. We both agree that that is insane and unconscionable.

But here's the real question: Why do people want to buy pinatas that look like disney characters?

Here's the next question: There is an enormous amount of material that is public domain. Every work of classical music, the mythology of every culture on earth, the homeric epics, etc. Why aren't people consuming those?


"Your example about Britney spears etc may be dead-on and 100% accurate, but they are also irrelevant. It is illegal to download it period, regardless of the actual cost." - Skeptic

Again, you oversimplify. If I have purchased a license (copy) of the material I may download it.


"Suppose you have permission to photocopy the picture of Paramecium, and you enlarge it to twice its size. Would the magnification of x110 still be correct? Explain."

Enlarge what? The sentence literally says to enlarge the PERMISSION. What a hoot!


Matt -- Are you sure you aren't misinterpreting this? Maybe it's just saying "ask your mom or dad" or "ask your lab's corporate overlords." You're probably right, but it's hard to tell without more than the one page of context.


>What's the big deal?

Other than being grammatically incorrect (as pointed out above in discussion of the literal meaning), and legally unnecessary (as pointed out above in discussion of fair use rights), it appears as a somewhat out-of-context detail. It introduces explicit precision into a peripheral aspect of the question that is irrelevant to the question itself. A similar oddity might be introduced by this copy:

"Suppose you understood how to use a photocopier to make a duplicate of the picture of Paramecium that was twice the size of the original."

For the student to solve the problem, it is wholly unnecessary to establish explicitly that the student understands how to use the photocopier, so including such wording would have seemed odd. Similarly, establishing explicitly that the student has obtained permission to photocopy the image is wholly unnecessary to solve the problem. So from that perspective, it would be worth noting on this blog (given its subject matter).

However, an additional point of interest is generated because (a) this is legally unnecessary, as pointed out in an earlier post, and (b) this wording speaks directly to the current high-profile public debate over copyright laws. From that perspective as well, then, it seems worth noting on any blog written by someone interested in such debate.

Oh, there is one more point of interest, for someone like myself (and possibly the blogger) who has an interest in how the presentation of written material impacts the interpretation of said material. When attempting to manipulate a reader's opinion about a given subject, it is common to introduce material as assumed and accepted, so that the reader is less likely to question the material. An example of this would be a paragraph that began "since the earth's magnetic fields are stable..."; a student would not be likely to challenge that statement, as it has been presented as fact, one that can be taken for granted. A more honest presentation would be "if we assume that the earth's magnetic fields are stable..." or "as long as the earth's magnetic fields are stable..." or somesuch.

On the other hand, was this sinister? Well, probably not. Likely the company that licensed the image demanded the text change, because someone was worried that the original copy implied photocopying was acceptable under any conditions.

So I guess I don't understand why anyone feels it necessary to get worked up over the fact that this has been published here by the blogger. I thought it was an interesting post, myself.


I think that they added that bit to make sure that little kids don't go running off and using photocopiers without permission.

Remember middle school? Remember how mad they got when you snuck over to the photocopier and started photocopying your hand? Remember how fun it was to shrink and enlarge things? Usually, we'd inadvertently screw up the settings so that the next time someone tried to use it they'd get their copies magnified too.

So listen kids, don't go copying this image on the closest photocopier without permission. (Permission to use the photocopier.)

Matt Hutson

Derrrrr myself. (Partially.) Ken may be right. Maybe the awkward sentence has nothing to do with copyright. Maybe someone on the Nat Geo staff just has vivid memories of the ugly Laminating Machine Disaster of '87.

Still, the sentence is awkward. Simple solution: "What if you photocopied the picture..." Was that so hard?

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