copyright don’t ask don’t tell

The other day I emailed a netlabel to ask if I could rehost their album art. They didn’t have a version of it online for me to include using a direct link, and it wasn’t under a permissive license that would permit me to redistribute it.

Then yesterday I emailed a fellow who had put up a sound sample under a license I can’t use to ask if I could have permission to use the sample anyway.

Neither of these people have gotten back to me. That’s not a coincidence – rights holders have an incentive to be cagey. They benefit from saying nothing. I doubt that either of the people I emailed would object to my use. But compare what they get for saying nothing to what they get for saying something:

– If they say no, I don’t help market their works. I represent viral spread to them, and they want it.

– If they say yes, they give up the opportunity to charge me.

– If they say nothing and I do it anyway, they gain both viral marketing and the ability to sue me.

Not giving permission but not saying no is all upside for rights holders.

They don’t even want to be *asked*. Let’s say a rights holder had a web app for infringers to tell on themselves, so that a user of the app would be submitting a statement to tell the rights holder that they were infringing. Wouldn’t this create an obligation for the rights holder to complain? Oh noes! If they didn’t complain they might lose their ability to sue. If they did complain they might lose viral marketing.

So that’s copyright don’t ask don’t tell. Rights holders want you to infringe without either asking them or telling them.