Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




No forwarding?

Joel wrote: <<Once again -- the essay will not appear on the web and will be copyright so I'll ask you not to forward the email around.>>

Copyright on email is a rather flimsy concept at best -- what do you intend to do, sue to collect those who violate your copyright by forwarding your email?

(I'm not trying to be offensive, I'm just sick and tired of 18-line disclaimers attached to emails that say things like "thou shalt not forward this" or "thou shall offer the writer your firstborn"; and curious as to why Joel suddenly felt the need to add 'exclusive' benefits to email subscribers.)

Ranajit Ray
Thursday, February 27, 2003

It's signifigantly less hazy for cases like these, I'd say.  Stupid stuff like deep linking and other sorts of things are hazy.  Stealing email with an explicit copyright attached to it is about the same as stealing the content of a webpage.  Clear cut reasons to get a takedown request put through.

flamebait sr.
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Thankfully, fair use allows us to comment on the email and quote small sections of it for discussion. 

I'm just waiting to receive the email so that we can have a lively meta-discussion on it.

I understand Joel's position more than most; I designed the forums for our website (http://www.coffeegeek.com/forums).  We desided to build (rather than buy/use open source) because it's part of our content management software and we wanted to sell it with that package. 

Of course, we got alot of flack from our users because our forums don't work exactly like what they are used to.

Wayne Venables
Thursday, February 27, 2003

<<
Of course, we got alot of flack from our users because our forums don't work exactly like what they are used to.
>>

Wayne, I don't think it's limited to only what users are used to.  Some things are just usability annoyances:

You have to scroll to the bottom of the thread list to find the link to start a new thread.  That's easily fixable.

You have to manually scroll to the bottom of a discussion thread - which can get tedious, add a simple anchor to the bottom of the ASP page and a link to it at the top, fixed.  Yeah, I can hit 'end' to get to the bottom, but I'm using my mouse and I have to take my hand away from the keyboard. 

Most of the issues are minor, but you add them up and the interface stinks =)  This may be ok for X number of users, but as JoS's readerbase (?) has increased, it quickly is on its way to becoming inadequate.

  
Thursday, February 27, 2003

make that:

"...but I'm using my mouse and I have to take my hand away from the mouse. "

  
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Given a pretty long essay, there are a lot of opportunities to make small variations. For example, "it's" vs. "it is". With n possible binary variations, you get 2^n versions of the essay. There are about 18000 people who will get it emailed to them, so it would only take 15 spots with two variations.

Now everybody could get a unique essay, without knowing it, and if I were to find the essay reposted on the net somewhere, it would be a simple matter to figure out who was violating the copyright (or at least, their email address).

Joel Spolsky
Thursday, February 27, 2003

And dear blank person, did you ever consider that I might WANT it to be hard to reply to a post before you read all the replies that are already there?

Joel Spolsky
Thursday, February 27, 2003

The copyright on an email is exaclty the same as that of a written letter you have been sent.

That gets rid of most of the "if  you've got this email by mistake, destroy it immediately before you readi it" which for some reason is put at the bottom and not the top of the emails.

If you've got the email by mistake the writer has no right to privacy. This is certainly true of the US where it is part of criminal jurisprudence, dealing mainly with the admissablity of mislaid emails or hard drives handed in to have data recovered from them. The matter is covered in considerable detail on the CIA web site.

So with a straightforward  missive you can do what you feel like with impunity.

Now what happens if Norman Mailer sends you his latest novel by email. You obviously have the same rights with the email that you would have if he sent you the book. However with a paper copy it's simple - you can pass it on to somebody else. But with an emaiil? If you print it out are you making another copy, and therefore have to delete it from your hard drive, or would that only apply if you sent either the electronic copy or paper copy to somebody else, in which case you would presumably have to ensure that nieither stayed in your possession?

And when does a missive become an article, and thus subject to copyright?

All good fun, and of course irrelevant since telling people not to forward something is the surest way of ensuring widespread distribution. The final question being whether Joel is an optimist or a cynic.

And, unfortunately, I don't think either of us are going to be in a position of having our emails passed around the net, with or without our consent

Stephen Jones
Thursday, February 27, 2003

>>>>>>did you ever consider that I might WANT it to be hard to reply to a post before you read all the replies that are already there? <<<<<

Joel, you're not reading what he's saying. He said

"You have to scroll to the bottom of the THREAD LIST to find the link to START A NEW THREAD. "

It is true that his request for a link to the bottom of the thread would allow somebody to post a reply before they had read the other posts, but that is an unlikely eventuality. The much more likely scenario is that the person has already scrolled down that list a dozen times before on order to read the new posts.

Scrolling  manually can be a real nuisance. I was on a fortnight's holiday last week, and I forgot to back the wheel mouse with the laptop. Not being able to use the middle wheel to scroll or open in a new tab became such a nusance that after an hour I logged off the internet and took a half-hour taxi ride to the nearest computer shop to get a mouse with a wheel.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Poor Joel...

While reading through some of the latest threads, it started to feel like walking in to a cranky nursery school (must be nap time?). Anyone who knows what it's like to moderate a discussion group (like me) can certainly feel for you.

I bought your book last year, read it, enjoyed it, and found it a valuable addition to my referece shelf. I've also greatly enjoyed the articles on this site. So here's my opinion... write your article, send it out, and if people want to whine about it then screw 'em. You can't please everyone.

HeyCoolAid!
Thursday, February 27, 2003

It's an issue of respect.

When I put a copyright on an email, mark it confidential and write 'please do not forward', I expect the recipient to respect my wishes.

Is it easy to legally enforce? No. Will I sue them for forwarding it? Unlikely.

But if someone violates the trust, they are a wanker who goes on my shit list. It's as simple as that.

Ed the Millwright
Thursday, February 27, 2003

>>>>>> When I put a copyright on an email, mark it confidential and write 'please do not forward', I expect the recipient to respect my wishes.<<<<<

You're confusing two things here; confidentiality and copyright.

Copyright is intended to protect the moral and financial rights of the author of an original creative work which will be disseminated. Confidentiality is an attempt to ensure that something isn't disseminated.

If you tell someone a secret and ask them not to pass it on, then you are quite right to put them on your "shit list" if they let you down, whether you do it by email, phone, letter or charades. Mind you from my experience of human behaviour you're going to have a pretty long list.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, February 27, 2003

"You have to scroll to the bottom of the THREAD LIST to find the link to START A NEW THREAD."

Which is the logical way to do it.

What is more common:

1. User A wants to see the latest topics.
2. User B wants to start a new topic.

I claim that #1 is 1000 times more common than #2.

Therefore, I, the conscientious HF engineer, given the choice (required due to limited screen real estate) between making #1 the easiest thing to do and #2 the easiest to do, choose task #1 to be the easiest because it is most common. On the other hand, if I was a Linux UI designer or a sadist living under a repressive totalitarian government, I would choose the opposite - make it harder to do the most common thing.

Ed the Millwright
Thursday, February 27, 2003

"You're confusing two things here; confidentiality and copyright. " - SJ

Did you actually read what Joel asked?

"Once again -- the essay will not appear on the web and will be copyright so I'll ask you not to forward the email around" -- Joel

Ed the Millwright
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Dear Ed,
              You're going overboard. Putting the link to post a new thread at the top as well as at the bottom, as nearly every other forum does, would not mean the person would have to scroll to read the messages. It would merely mean that he would have to scroll if he wanted to read message 41 (on my browser anyway). There is also spare real estate at the side if necessary.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, February 27, 2003

>>>>>Did you actually read what Joel asked?<<<<

I was replying to you not Joel. You said,

" When I put a copyright on an email, mark it confidential and write 'please do not forward'"

Joel was claiming copyrignt, not confidentialiality. And you can't jist "put copyright" on an emaiil. The email has to belong to a genre that is copyrightable.

For example neither this, nor your last post, are copyrightable, although if the whole thread formed part of some king of post-modenr novel than the author of it all would be able to claim copyright.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, February 27, 2003

In Canada, anything you write automatically has implicit and automatic copyright rights - including emails :)

Under my personal code of ethics, you shouldn't as a rule forward emails that you didn't write without permission anyway, although messages sent to an email list and/or messages sent in a corporate context *by their nature* are generally considered to be more public than private email. 

However, it is perfectly legal and legit to comment on documents - so long as the entire document is not reproduced, unless said document is covered by another mechanism such as trade secrecy.  And honestly, Joel - subtle variations aren't really going to be a huge deterrent - if I wanted to forward it around to someone (who?) I'd run it through a script to edit those kinds of things first, especially since you've now pointed out that you're thinking about doing variations.

If I was releasing a document I was not anxious for users to forward around - I wouldn't remind my users about copyright (presumably all of your articles are copyrighted anyway, Joel, so emphasizing here just sounds odd), but would tell them it is confidential. And if I was really serious about it, I wouldn't distribute the document by email in the first place - I'd make it harder than clicking "forward" -and tell users go to a secure website which displays the image as several pictures (more difficult to copy).

Finally, if I was really really worried about users disclosing the contents of the email, I'd get everyone that signs up for it to explicitly agree to a non-disclosure via a clickthough (somewhat hazy legally) and/or via an email stating their agreement (valid in Canada, but not necessarily everywhere else).  If you really wanted to control this - I guess you could have us all return a signed fax...

MaisOui
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Stephen: Your notion of copyright is incorrect, at least under U.S. law. Copyright automatically applies to any tangible work of original authorship (construed liberally). It generally doesn't matter whether you even assert copyright or not.

In the case of posts to this thread: If it's original, and you wrote it, and it's published in a print or electronic medium -- which this most certainly is -- then it's automatically copyrighted.

See http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html for details.

John C.
Thursday, February 27, 2003

It's not just US law--that's the Berne Convention I believe. To simplify interntional rules on copyright, all signatories have a copyright of at least N years requiring no registration or even indication of copyright.

mb
Thursday, February 27, 2003

I wish everyone just stuck to the Honour Code! SIGH!

Prakash S
Friday, February 28, 2003

I was the original poster, and I'd like to clarify again, it wasn't a particularly 'cranky' question. As somone mentioned, email *is* implicitly copyrighted, but the value attached to it is rather low (i.e. any damages a court awards would be rather low), since it is often arrives unsolicited and because of other reasons that are better covered elsewhere on the web (IANAL).

Now, mind you, I agree with a good deal of what Joel says, but this 'no forwarding' thing reminded me of the folk who sent out CueCats and then started getting antsy when people started disassembling their product.

Finally, to ensure people don't distribute your content, there are two ways: legal measures like copyright, which don't work well with low-value things like email, and the honor system (this isn't, after all, Slashdot -- I think most readers would not forward if Joel asked them not to). On the other hand, when you *mix* the two, i.e., point out the copyrighted nature of the article *and then* 'ask' not to forward, my natural reaction is: why the strong-arm tactics?

Ranajit Ray
Friday, February 28, 2003

why? heisenberg effects! didn't I already mention that?

Joel Spolsky
Friday, February 28, 2003

Joel,

Don't lose your shirt :-)
To you, heisenberg effects have a meaning in this context. To most others, it doesn't. It is just some general term that could mean anything as long as it isn't explained in your context.

So bear with the impatient and at least acknowledge that you created a mystery that attracts those questions, even when you've already explained that things will become clear when the essay arrives.

Practical Geezer
Friday, February 28, 2003

> why? heisenberg effects! didn't I already mention that?

Joel, I got the bit about Heisenberg effects; but I would've thought the *best* way to avoid them would be to direct as little attention to this post as possible. Asking people 'not to forward' (that too with a -- IMHO -- heavy handed "respect my copyright" line) may just cause the opposite effect.

Again, perhaps I over-reacted: it *is* your site and obviously you can write as you see fit; it's just that the tone of the last paragraph did not in my mind match the good-natured person who (presumably) wrote "Alligators: enter via NYC sewers" in http://www.fogcreek.com/fog0000000046.html .

Ranajit Ray
Friday, February 28, 2003

"why? heisenberg effects!"
You claimed this before. However telling only those on the email list will also introduce these effects, because many of those receiving it will be posters to the forum. Which is precisely the reason you have people asking why you are not only only sending it out by email and actively encouraging people to receive it (you know, by having that extra 'Subscribe Here!' bit in the announcement).

Wonder whethere this will get removed...


Friday, February 28, 2003

>>>>>Copyright automatically applies to any tangible work of original authorship (construed liberally)<<<<<<<<

Agreed; now the operatiuve word here is "work".

Everything that is communicated is not a "work". If George W. Bush wirtes "I'm stoned on smack/Let's bomb Iraq" then it would be copyright if he meant it as a poem, but not if they were official instructions to the armed forces.

Equally if Joel writes an article about his discussion forums and the reasons that have led him to change it he could reasonably claim that it is a "work". However if he simply states new instructions as to its use then copyright does not apply.

I won't know what on earth Joel means by "Heisenberg effects" until after I've read the mail, though the phrase does sound a mite pretentious, but claiming copyright seems a totally inappropriate way of preventing the ideas being disseminated since they are not covered by copyright.

Had a copyright law been in existence in Shakespeare's day then "To be or not to be" would have been copyright, but suicide wouldn't.

Stephen Jones
Friday, February 28, 2003

"Given a pretty long essay, there are a lot of opportunities to make small variations. For example, "it's" vs. "it is". With n possible binary variations, you get 2^n versions of the essay. There are about 18000 people who will get it emailed to them, so it would only take 15 spots with two variations."

:-)

Now we have _another_ reason for wanting to compare emails

why why why?

nice
Friday, February 28, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home