Michael Brass and Copyright
In the past few days I've had a few e-mails from "Mikey" Brass, the newly appointed BCSE interim chairman. You may remember that Mikey e-mailed me to request a correction to my previous article on copyright.
That previous article arose from the fact that the BCSE has attempted to discredit me, by claiming that I am breaking the law. Or in their own words, "he has never approached us for copyright permission on any material lifted from any sites of BCSE or its forum participants or members." Of course, I don't need any permission merely to make small quotations from any of their sites.
But this claim quickly back-fired on the BCSE rather spectacularly. With just a cursory sweep of their website, I was able to uncover over 10 places where they have lifted entire articles from copyrighted sources (including those with prominent copyright notices) onto their site.
Among those who have been plagiarised are the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent and several creationists.
However, one of my "exhibits" ("Exhibit A") was not a whole article, but 3 A4 pages, of which less than 1 page was from an unpublished work. Mikey Brass, BCSE chairman, e-mailed me to let me know that he personally had permission to publish this short extract. I took his word for it - you can read the correction I made in the original article.
However, Mikey didn't stop there - he also had something to say about the 2 A4 pages of the other work. Mikey said,
"I also love your ignorance of fair usage: the quoted pieces constitute less than ten percent of either work."
I found this interesting for two reasons:
I wanted to make sure that I had really understood Mikey right on both points. It wouldn't be fair to blog this without checking that I wasn't misinterpreting him, so I e-mailed him to ask.
Mikey confirmed that this was indeed his understanding.
To me, this just shows again the huge gap between reality and the BCSE's public announcements and representation of itself as a credible authority. I've touched on this before when covering the BCSE's (and Mikey's) off-the-wall pronouncements on home education.
UK copyright laws do not mention any definite percentage. Each case is judged on its merits, should it be litigated. The "ten percent" theory would lead to obvious absurdities. For example, under this theory, I could serialise a couple of volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica without any worries. And if I could persuade 9 friends to publish another 10% each, we could reproduce any work in the world. Copyright law might as well not exist!
This leaves me wondering why Mikey was so dogmatic about this theory - so dogmatic that he was willing to say he "loved my ignorance" ! (The irony...) Was this another attempt to intimidate me into silence with bluster? Or does he actually (ignorantly!) believe it? Only he knows, and further e-mails to him about it have not provided an answer.
The other point I think is more telling. Seeing as now not only the BCSE's original de facto leader (Roger Stanyard) but also its new chairman have both acknowledged that fair usage rights exist, why do they continue to proclaim on the page about me that they don't? Why do they continue to claim that I have acted illegally?
I asked Mikey as follows:
Mikey, I was interested in two things.
1) You acknowledge the existence of fair use rights. As such, the BCSE's web-page which alleges that I am breaking the law in not having asked you permission to make quotes from your website, is obviously something you know to be false. ...
2) Your understanding of fair use rights seems to be an allowance to reproduce anything up to 10%. I find that an interesting theory... it doesn't explain, of course, why your organisation's website reproduces 100% of so many copyrighted works - rather, it seems to suggest that you know you're outside the law?
Mikey gave me no reply to this question, but instead sent a one-line reply to an irrelevant aside I'd made in the same e-mail.
I wanted to be sure that Mikey had had a fair chance to answer me, so I e-mailed him again, as follows:
I'm going to blog the facts that your e-mails to me (in whatever capacity) clearly show that you, the BCSE's chairman, know that fair use rights exist.
Do you have any comment for me on the fact that the BCSE's website continues to claim that I am acting illegally by not approaching the BCSE for the right to quote it? Obviously, I will be suggesting that the BCSE's stance is somewhat dishonest and hypocritical. Anything to say to that before I blog?
"I really couldn't care less what nonsense you continue to peddle on your private site."
I think that these facts speak for themselves. The BCSE wishes to maintain a hypocritical stance, smear me, and hope that nobody notices. Moreover, it can't answer fair and honest questions from those that it smears, but just ignores us instead and hopes we'll go away. This gives us a pretty good clue as to what kind of organisation they are. I can now say that I've received the same kind of treatment that the various scientists, educators and others have received who are smeared on the BCSE's website. That's what this blog's here for - so that anyone else who is open-minded can see what's really going on.
Mikey stressed more than once that he was e-mailing me in a "private" capacity, and not in his capacity as BCSE chairman. I have no problem pointing this out, but find it rather puzzling. Is he suggesting that there are two Mikey Brass's? One who acknowledges fair use rights (the private one) and one who doesn't (the public one)? Is he schizophrenic? I don't understand this way of thinking too well. Either Mikey Brass knows that the BCSE is deliberately and hypocritically trying to smear me with lies, or he doesn't - whatever capacity he's acting in. Whatever capacity he's acting in, the fact is, his organisation looks to have extreme problems with handling the simple truth.