[permaculture] Re: Holmgren Collected Writings (Thilo Pfennig)

Toby Hemenway hemenway at jeffnet.org
Tue Mar 26 16:01:16 EST 2002

Heide Hermary at heidehermary at pacificcoast.net wrote:

> do we have different copyright laws in different countries?

Most countries signed the Berne Convention, which places nearly all nations'
copyright laws in agreement. Universally, writing is is automatically
protected the moment it's "fixed in tangible form" (written down or typed,
not just published or posted) with or without a license or copyright mark.

Thilo Pfennig at tp at alternativ.net wrote:

> As I have changed your work it can not be copyrighted by you any more.

Not true. I'm not a lawyer, but I've unhappily had to learn a lot about
copyright law. "Changing" the work is itself almost certainly a violation of
copyright. The law says the original author (Steve) is the only person who
has the right to copy the work or to make "derivative" works based on it,
which Thilo seems to have done. You can't use Steve's words (beyond short
quotes) or add your own words or formatting without his permission. And if
he didn't answer your request, that doesn't give you permission.

There is a gray area called "fair use" where it's okay to copy certain
things without permission for educational purposes as long as it doesn't
harm the author, if society will benefit. But you can't put your name on it.

I understand the "information wants to be free" argument, and it's a pain to
have to pay when information seems so easy to reproduce. But why would an
author bother to write down ideas if he could not benefit from it? Sheer joy
of sharing only goes so far; then there's rent to pay. Paying insures that
people will continue to create; it returns energy to those who put it out.

Thilo has every right to give his own original work away. But authors of
other works have the right to say how their "original work"--their specific
words and art--are used. The law says no one can own an idea. If you want to
spread their ideas, great: get permission to copy, or re-write their ideas
using your own words. But just pirating their words and work without
permission is very different from "spreading the ideas of permaculture."
Ideas are content; original works are form. Form is what authors control.

> I am less interested in the earnings of PC authors than in the
> PC ideas in practice.

Doesn't practicing the Pc idea of "care for people" extend to authors?  And
deciding that a person shouldn't get compensation for her work is also known
as theft. Be aware that pirating actually does harm to the author. Is that
okay? Or are the benefits of spreading these "ideas"--which are really the
work of others--worth cheating authors out of an income and credit? "The end
justifies the means" is a slippery slope. And it seems counterproductive to
use illegal, unethical means to spread the word about a system based on

Most authors--myself included--are happy to let people distribute parts of
their work for free, but we do make our livings by laboriously turning
thoughts and research into words so ideas can be spread. I understand that
copying an app or doc or CD seems pretty innocuous. But just because
technology has made stealing much easier doesn't change the fact that it's
stealing. If unethical behavior were always hard work, we wouldn't need
laws. It's the easy dishonesties we need to guard against.

Copyright laws, the courts have said many times, are written not so much to
give an author control, but to create an atmosphere where people have an
incentive to offer their creations to the world, knowing they will get some
benefit from their effort. We all profit from that arrangement, imperfect as
it is. 

For those interested, there's good material on copyright law at
http://www.loc.gov/copyright (official US and international stuff), at Nolo
Press http://www.nolopress.com (click on trademark and copyright at left)
and at http://www.hitme.net/useful/c.html (some on how it applies to the


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