[conspire] A sometimes scarily small community, is ours

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Wed Jan 4 23:44:44 PST 2006

I wrote:

> That included amending the copyright notice to reflect what seemed to
> me the reality of it being a joint work.  (As I'm sure you're aware,
> ever since adoption of the Berne Convention, copyright notices per se
> have no legal effect: I assume Eric's not adding my name to his copy's
> copyright notice was, also, entirely innocent.)

Dammit, I _knew_ this sort of stuff would bite me, sooner or later.
After the Jim Thompson incident, I got woken up to the existence of a lot 
of rogue mirror copies of "How to Ask Questions the Smart Way" around
the Net.

By "rogue" I mean copies either with unauthorised alterations (including
removing the authors' names and copyright notice entirely, and many
others) or unaltered but severely out of date:  If you look at the
essay's master version at catb.org, it says mirrorable under a "copying
policy" (that I endorse) that has incredibly generous and enlightened

Mirroring _is_ permitted, explicitly -- provided you don't alter the
contents, and provided your copy is "dynamic" in the sense of keeping up
with revisions at catb.org.  ("Static", frozen-archive copies are not 
permitted, because that results in outdated mirrors lurking around the

As an additional exception, translations into any language are
explicitly allowed, and don't have to track catb.org's changes --
provided they're date-stamped and include a hyperlink back to the
catb.org English-language original.  There are 15 translated copies,
with one more coming.

So, the terms are really generous, really easy to understand, and
impossible to miss -- just like the copyright statement at the top of
the essay.  But do people bother to comply?  Of course not!

I spotted literally hundreds of pasted copies of the essay into Web
forums, for starters -- including the copyright notice they were
violating, right up at the top.  Whee!  Let's just ignore copyright.

But then, there are also about a baker's dozen static mirror copies,
most of them still showing 2001 or 2002 contents, thus missing 2-3 years
of revisions.  (I've noted all copies' status, here:
http://linuxmafia.com/faq/Essays/smart-questions.copyright )

And when I write these guys, saying please update contents per the
copying requirements (and/or don't alter the contents without
permission) -- or take down your non-compliant mirror -- they give me
_verbal abuse_, and two of them have already told me they'll listen
only to Eric.


Which leads me to write e-mails like this, straining to be pleasant and 
reasonable (about, in this case, a 2001 mirror that the guy says is OK
because it's not a "mirror", only an "archive copy" -- and asserts
that republishing 100% of our piece is "fair use"):

 Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2006 15:55:24 -0800
 From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
 To: R P Herrold <herrold at owlriver.com>
 Subject: Re: Mirror of "How to Ask Questions the Smart Way"

Hi, Russ.  I respect your wish to get clarification from Eric, and
so we'll be getting that as soon as Eric has his MTA fixed:  At the
moment, and for the last few days, Postfix is rejecting mail.  I
suspect he has a full filesystem.

(You're a good guy, and we're all friends here.)

This could be resolved by telephone, but I can't in good conscience pass
you Eric's cellular number, so it's best for us to wait.  (His home
number is 610-296-5718.  Yesterday, he was on the road in a series
of meetings, so I'm not sure he's there -- you might reach Cathy.)  When
I told him about our conversation, he agreed with me, but you of course
don't know that.

I also don't blame you for having a mistaken notion of copyright rights;
the misconception that people must be listed in copyright notices before
they can assert rights seems to have survived ratification of the Berne
Convention that ended that regime and made title automatic.

I'm also going to ask Eric to please (finally) fix the DocBook XML
master copy to correctly reflect ownership in the copyright statement.
Eric concurs that our ownership is joint:  I rechecked this with him,
this morning.  Note:  Eric issues new public HTML versions only
occasionally, so the change may take a while to roll out.

Just so you know, if I were _not_ resolved to deal with this in a
friendly manner, I could drive home the lesson about copyright law
through a 17 USC 512(c) takedown request filed with Time Warner Telecom.
I could do this, and it _would_ work (and you really wouldn't like it),
but I would much rather delay and have Eric confirm what I'm saying --
since you say that would persuade you.

Rick M.

More information about the conspire mailing list