Pro-Ghana(ian) Internet Portals and Copyright Infringement

Mon, 2 Jan 2012 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

The Internet engenders virtual propinquity. The preceding statement implies that, with the proper tools, an online enthusiast could readily find a person or thing on the Internet without regard to time or geographic location. It also means, therefore, that the virtual aficionado could fairly accurately prognosticate the interminable compendiums of ethical violations and downright illegal activities that have come to adorn the slippery and occasionally ominous vista known as the Internet – from copyright infringements to explicit acts of plagiarism to unabashed attempts to pilfer the pragmatic and innovative ideas of others. Well, in order to identify and neutralize the activities of dishonest characters, software geniuses developed highly innovative tools, such as Google Alerts and Yahoo Alerts, for tracking activity on the Internet. My favorite is Google Alerts, an ostensibly innocuous little general with a veritable punch, which notified me ten months ago that my article on the Darfur Crisis in Sudan, which I got published on a few Ghana-leaning Internet portals had become, without my explicit permission, part of a textbook for university students in the U.S.A and, possibly, beyond.

With simple algorithms of words and characters, I receive regular notifications from Google Alerts about activities on the Internet that identify those specific words and characters that I have fed it. My algorithms remain a secret, however. So, when on February 11, 2011, I received the aforesaid notification, I began a frantic search to find the person – and publisher – who had utilized my work in a for-profit textbook without ever contacting me. After a thirty-minute search, I found what I was looking for: Perspectives on Modern World History: The Crisis in Darfur, edited by Jeff T. Hay, Ph.D., a lecturer in the Department of History at the University of California, San Diego. Fortunately, the chapter in this 165-page book that was devoted to my work, reproduced verbatim, with adjuvant pictorial representations complementing my work, was reproduced by the little general, which then led me to the Web site of Gale, Cengage Learning (gale.cengage.com), a highly respected medium that publishes university textbooks in the U.S.A.

For a freshly released book that sold for about $40.00, I wondered why the author did not send a simple electronic mail to me seeking my permission to publish my work. I quickly located the name of the Cengage Learning Web site’s senior infringement and anti-piracy officer and immediately sent her an electronic mail. She responded within minutes. The Cengage officer’s response was both straightforward and disconcerting: her company had requested and received permission from Modernghana.com – the preceding Web site and Ghanaweb.com had published the original piece on September 29, 2008, titled “Kufuor Must not Allow Omar al-Bashir on Ghanaian Soil!” (http://www.modernghana.com/news/184258/1/kufuor-must-not-allow-omar-al-bashir-on-ghanaian-s.html) – to publish my work. I was at once stunned and incensed. I quickly sent an electronic mail to Modernghana.com demanding answers. Fifteen minutes later, I got a reply from Modernghana.com, with a thorough explication of the events that led up to the receipt of the request from a third party, Digi-Rights.com, an independent contractor representing the interests of Cengage Learning, and how the request was granted.

Not satisfied, I shot back demanding more answers. Subsequently, I received a copy of the exact request form that Digi-Rights.com had submitted to Modernghana.com for permission to use my piece, as well as a copy of the fulfilled request that Modernghana.com had returned to Cengage Learning, via Digi-Rights.com. These are now mementos in my arsenal of collectibles, but I may have other important uses for them in the near future, so long as the statute of limitations period has not expired. A portion of my final e-mail to Modernghana.com, which I am reproducing here, verbatim, was: "Is there a clause on your Web site that indicates that you have power over articles submitted to your site, and that you, Modernghana.com, and not the authors whose works you publish, have the power to grant third parties permission to use the works of said authors? Modernghana.com could have referred Gale Cengage to me directly, since my e-mail address was provided under the article, unless you believe that, under applicable laws, you could grant third parties permission to use submissions to your site without going through the authors themselves." I did receive a profuse apology from Modernghana.com thereafter, but it did not resolve all of the issues for me.

Indeed, the book clearly identified the source of the work, introducing the following caveat at the bottom of the first page of the chapter in question: "Daniel K. Pryce, 'Kufuor Must not Allow al-Bashir on Ghanaian Soil!' modernghana.com, September 29, 2008. Reproduced by permission." So, there was proper attribution all right, but it is how the permission was sought – and gained – that still leaves me heavily dissatisfied.

Whether this article serves as a polemic, worth a meticulous scrutiny by discerning and astute readers, is only one side of the coin. The other side is the paradox that the imbroglio had generated: on the one hand, I find it a great honor to have my name – and work – immortalized in a university textbook by one of the best research institutions in the world; on the other hand, I feel a certain under-appreciation of my hard work because of the ostensibly dastardly nature in which permission was sought – and granted – for the use of my work in the book. Sadly, I had to pay slightly more than $31.00 for a copy of the book (I got a discount for ordering it via gale.cengage.com), an even greater reason to feel slighted, although, in all earnestness, the editor and Cengage Learning could have sent me a complimentary copy for using my work in this for-profit tome. So, while others are smiling all the way to the bank with the bag that contains the green notes, I am left to hold nothing more than the bag of fond memories – and it does have no pecuniary benefits – of my meticulous and elaborate analysis of the Darfur Crisis! Well, I have not sent an article to Modernghana.com since the incident.

If there is one lesson for all pro-Ghana(ian) Internet portals, it is simply this: Do not grant permission to third parties to use other people’s intellectual works unless there is unambiguous information on these Ghana-leaning Internet portals explaining that all submitted works could be unilaterally disseminated by the Web sites in question. With some of our pro-Ghana(ian) Web sites operated by maladroit managers – no derision intended – who brazenly "poach" articles from the more glamorous Ghana-leaning Web sites, I am left to wonder how long before one of these managers gets hauled before a competent judge for violations of intellectual property rights and breaches of anti-piracy laws.

Certainly, I will advise all writers that, in order to obviate the surreptitious issuance of permissions in their names by these law-violating Web sites, they must append the wonderful symbol © (see the Copyright Act of 1976, which covers anonymous, pseudonymous, and eponymous works by authors), the year of publication, and the name of the author next to any piece that they deem to be intellectual in nature. It is the simplest way to supplement the efforts of the little and tireless general – my preferred little and tireless general – for information on what dishonest deeds are going on the vast virtual vista that we all call the Internet.

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, is pursuing a doctoral degree in Criminology, Law & Society at George Mason University. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from the same university. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached via e-mail at dpryce@cox.net, or followed on Twitter: @DanielKPryce.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.