Sunday, August 2, 2009

What Happens If Justin D. Gawronski Wins?

As you have probably heard, Justin D. Gawronski claims that when removed illegal copies of a book he was reading, it messed up his notes so much that it forced him to redo his homework. Rather than ranting for an hour and then settling down to redo his homework, like you or I would have probably done, Justin D. Gawronski has decided to sue I'm no legal expert, so I don't know all of the issue involved here, but I ask myself what it would mean to me as a writer if Justin D. Gawronski were to win this case.

Did do the Right Thing?

Some people have argued that was wrong for deleting the book, which had been made available without the permission of the copyright holder. They argue that this situation was handled differently than it would have been for a print book. Most likely, with a print book, the copyright holder would have notified of the situation and would have removed it from availability immediately. All of the illegally printed copies in their warehouses would have been destroyed and they would have come to some agreement (either in court or out of court)with the copyright holder about how much they owed them for damages. It is unlikely that the copyright holder would require to recall the printed books, but what if there is some reason why the copyright holder doesn’t want those books in print? Just because it doesn’t normally happen this way doesn’t mean that the copyright holder doesn’t have the right to require to contact the people who purchased the book from them and inform them that if they do not return the book they will be a party to a crime and may be facing a court case. The reason it doesn’t happen is because the opposition most copyright holders have to allowing just anyone to print their books has more to do with money than anything else. If the copyright violator is willing to pay, then it usually isn’t worth it to go after the end customer.

In the case of’s Kindle, there is nothing to stop from remedying the situation by removing the illegal copies. Whatever damages are caused by those copies being out there would be mitigated. As copyright holders, we should not be forced to allow an illegal version of our work to remain in existence if someone has the ability to eliminate it. So, did the right thing.

What Else Might Be Considered Wrong?

If we turn this around and look at it not as a dispute about a book that happens to be stored in an electronic device, but look at it as how we might handle data stored in an electronic device, the case could have far reaching effects. Irrespective of the fact that the source material was illegal, Justin D. Gawronski’s complaint appears to be that removed data to which he had linked his notes and by removing that data they caused him damage due to his links no longer being valid. I use the word link here because I want to point out that bloggers and webmasters place material on the web every day that other people link to. Much of it is made available free of charge, but it makes little difference whether it is free or they charge for it, people are linking to it in blog posts and on websites regularly. It would seem that this case is therefore related.

Suppose you find a website with a lot of useful information. In a blog post, you reference this website through links. You schedule this blog post to appear on your blog two weeks later. Two weeks pass and you get several comments, “I tried to links and it told me it couldn’t find the information.” You investigate and discover that the website structure is different than it was before. The links don’t work. You can fix some of them, but others are to information that is no longer on the website. You spend time correcting your post, so the webmaster of that other site has caused you damages.

I would argue that if Justin D. Gawronski were to win this case then in the example above, you would have the right to sue the webmaster of that website for damages he caused you. But what if that webmaster were you? What if you received an article from a friend, telling you that you could place it on your blog, but after it appears, someone contacts you and informs you that your friend has copied material she had no right to copy. You inform the copyright holder that you will remove the material immediately, but then you have the problem that everyone who has linked to your blog will have a broken link. If Justin D. Gawronski were to win this case, you could be open to a lawsuit if you were to place anything on your blog or website (legal or illegal) and then remove it without first verifying that it would not cause anyone who linked to it damages. Even if that link were only a reference in a homework assignment. In the interest of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, we don’t want Justin D. Gawronski to win this case.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

He won. Hooray for pointless lawsuits.