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I was just reading a question where an answer provided a link to a script of a two part episode of a television show. This is not hosted on a production company website, it's what appears to be a private site.

I am not aware of all the legal issues with scripts, but I know there are a number of companies in Hollywood that sell TV and film scripts to people. Sometimes the scripts are copies of early drafts, or of the actual shooting script, and sometimes it's the result of someone watching the movie or show and typing in, word for word, a script of what is seen on the screen.

I know the writer of a TV episode is allowed to sell physical copies of his/her script, but that the production itself is, of course, copyrighted by the production company. In general, a script up on the internet without the production company's approval is a copyright violation.

I know the issue of TV shows and movies on YouTube is a grey area, since YouTube pays licensing fees to corporations to allow copyrighted content, but most copies of TV shows and movies on YouTube are uploaded by individuals, often from DVDs where the licensing for the product states it cannot be redistributed in any way.

Should we allow links to copyrighted YouTube videos? (I think there's a difference between a link to a 3-4 minute scene in a movie or from a TV show and an entire movie or show. The first would be fair use, the second would depend on the licensing agreements for YouTube.)

And should we allow links to text that is a direct copy of copyrighted material?

I know this isn't popular, but laws vary from country to country and, honestly, with the nastiness that has been going on with copyright law in the past few years, I think we need a clear policy on this.

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    IANAL, but using a short clip as part of an answer seems clearly "fair use", but having it available for watching with no other context (as it would appear on YouTube) does not. If you hosted the content yourself (Jeff Atwood asked where this could be done on webapps - there is no good solution) then that would seem fair. – Tony Meyer Jan 28 '12 at 11:07
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    I recently flagged this answer, which linked to what appears to be a site that violates copyright. The flag was rejected: "declined - flags should only be used to make moderators aware of content that requires their intervention". Not long after that, the answer itself was edited by another moderator to remove the link. Consistency can be difficult, but ... – Keith Thompson Dec 27 '13 at 19:03
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No.

In the terms of service:

Subscriber represents, warrants and agrees that it will not contribute any Subscriber Content that (a) infringes, violates or otherwise interferes with any copyright or trademark of another party,

A link to illegally reproduced copyrighted material absolutely interferes with that copyright.

There's plenty of discussion about this on other metas if you're interested.

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    This doesn't exactly address the original question. Tango asked if we should link to content of questionable legality. All the links you provide deal with obvious copyright violations. Even Jeff Atwood's post says, "If it is a 'grey area' then, depending on the intentions of the poster, it can be OK. But if it is clearly illegal, then no." In the case of transcript archives, if it is determined that they are definitely illegal, then we should definitely adopt a policy of not linking to them. – NorbyTheGeek Jan 28 '12 at 14:56
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    The original question says "should we allow links to text that is a direct copy of copyrighted material?" I don't see how that is questionable. Read the last link: if you believe it is legal, then go ahead and link; if you are not sure, try and find out; if you believe it is not, don't link. – Tony Meyer Jan 30 '12 at 20:41
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Since we did not host the material, pirated/stolen or not, we are not liable for what the link goes to. As long as the material to the outside site isn't in violation of the rules of SE, then I would assume the user could link all they wanted.

That being said, the user would need to have a summary of the valuable information the link provides should the information be deleted in the future.

Someone let me know if I'm wrong about the rules.

  • But if SOPA or PIPA ever pass in the U.S., then there would be liabilities for linking to material that infringes on copyright. On the other hand, doesn't the linking encourage illegal activity? In the case of SF&F, we depend on authors for material, so isn't that a reason to respect their work and help them protect their work? – Tango Jan 28 '12 at 6:52
  • It would only be illegal if the copywriter owner were to press charges. And since we didn't host the information, we wouldn't be shut down from SOPA/PIPA the link would just go dead. However if someone were to quote too much or provide a complete transcript of the information, then we would be in violation of the acts, if they were to pass. – OghmaOsiris Jan 28 '12 at 6:56
  • @TangoOversway Actually, look up ACTA, as that was the genesis of SOPA/PIPA. Europe just signed on with it, so expect this sort of crap to come to more countries. – user1027 Jan 28 '12 at 18:28
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I have an idea which site you're referring to, and I have linked to it in some of my answers when I needed a source.

The first time I linked to it, I also wondered about the legality of the content. I did some more searching around and found several large transcript archives. Of course, this in itself does not speak to the legality of these sites, but I took it as a good sign that large, well-developed sites with so much content were in existence. My thinking was if it was illegal, they wouldn't be thriving as much as they are.

I also drew a parallel to the sites that offer guitar tabs of popular music, which are always transcribed by listeners and shared with the rest of the Internet.

As far as videos on YouTube, I think you've made an important point - we can't know if a video posted is a copyright violation or if the poster has a licensing agreement to show it on YouTube. I think that is up to YouTube to police.

I'm not saying we should be linking to BitTorrent sites or downloads of books or movies, but do we really have the resources to determine what all on the Internet is legally posted?

We can look to see if Movies or Books has a policy on linking to copyrighted content, or if StackExchange itself has a policy. But I don't think that simply linking to transcript sites like this can land anyone in any trouble.

On the other hand, if things like SOPA or PIPA pass, the problem will take care of itself.

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    "if it was illegal, they wouldn't be thriving". Have you met the internet? Seriously, there's no end of examples of thriving illegal activity. – Tony Meyer Jan 28 '12 at 10:44
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    It's not about whether anyone could get in trouble. It's about doing what is right. If you honestly believe that the content being linked to is a legal reproduction, then link away. If you aren't sure, try to find out. If you are fairly sure it is not, then don't link to it. – Tony Meyer Jan 28 '12 at 10:47
  • @TonyMeyer You mean doing what is legal. The 'right'ness of it is a tangent here. We should be discussing what is specifically allowed by the laws in what I assume is the US (if that's where the SE servers are). – user1027 Jan 28 '12 at 18:30
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    @Keen no, I disagree with that. I believe we should do what is right, even if that goes further than what is legally required. – Tony Meyer Jan 28 '12 at 20:30
  • I totally agree with this one. If it's clearly a copyright violation site (BT or similar) then no. If it's a well-established site like youtube, then it's down to the OP to determine if copyright is relevant, not yours. – Valorum Dec 8 '14 at 10:28

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