Jennifer Aniston, Copyright and You

William Patry, who runs a very good Copyright Blog, has a very interesting article about Jennifer Anniston’s so-called copyright tiff.

To make a long story short, Jennifer Anniston’s teenage lover has taken to selling her old love letters on Ebay, at least one with a $100,000 reserve, and this has raised questions in many people’s minds (though apparently not Anniston’s) about the possibility of a copyright infringement suit. After all, letters have been long deemed copyrightable and others have sued successfully to stop reprinting of personal letters under copyright law.

However, as Patry points out quite eloquently, those cases have dealt with reproduction. Often times, when dealing with plagiarism and our rights as content creators under copyright law, we forget that end users have certain rights too. One of the critical rights is the ability to resell the original item.

For example, if you purchase a copy of my book (shameless plug aside), you can resell it to whoever you wish at any price they’re willing to pay, you can loan it out to a friend, you can give it away and you can even make copies of it for the purpose of backup. However, you can not make copies of it and resell or give away the copies. That violates copyright law.

This applies to plagiarism because, without a legal head on the top of my shoulders and never having encountered such an incident before, I’m not sure how a case would work where someone sells an original piece but claims it as their own. Clearly this still harms the original author as he loses credit for his work and other benefits that come along with it, but without copying the work, as with more traditional plagiarism, it’s difficult to see how this case would play out.

Luckily, this is a very unlikely scenario but still worth at least a little debate. So, anyone out there who cares to take a swing at this is more than free, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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