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Law school takes on online copyrights

In a case that could clarify the role of intellectual property rights on the Internet, the Ohio State University law school has agreed to champion a graduate student who says a local newspaper stole his photography for online use.

In a case that could clarify the role of intellectual property rights on the Internet, the Ohio State University law school has agreed to champion a graduate student who says a local newspaper stole his photography for online use.

The university agreed today to help photographer and graduate student Taehyun Kim file a civil suit against Columbus Alive, a local paper that allegedly twice used photos--once in print and once on the publication's AliveWired Web site--from Kim's Web site without his permission.

Kim is asking for $480 in compensation from the paper, a published apology, and a letter from the editorial staff admitting to an "improper understanding of ethical issues involving the World Wide Web," according to a letter Kim sent to Columbus Alive editor and publisher Sally MacPhail.

"It's possible that there's some confusion, but it's still unethical," said Kim.

Contacted this week, MacPhail admitted downloading Kim's photo from his Web site and publishing it on October 22 before securing his permission. The next day, after the photo ran in the print edition with full credit, MacPhail spoke to Kim. She apologized and offered monetary compensation, but Kim refused.

He says he was shocked again, however, when that same day the AliveWired Web site posted a second black-and-white photo. This time, the photo had been altered to give a person with a mohawk haircut seen in the photo bright pink hair. MacPhail said the second photo, which remained on the site for several days, was posted--again with full credit--without her knowledge.

MacPhail said she believes the photos to be legally reusable under "fair use" laws because there were no copyright notices on Kim's site.

"Until I hear otherwise, that's still my impression," said MacPhail. "I consider these informational sites, and that if we gave credit to where the photo was obtained that we were safe." However, she has declared a moratorium on using photos from the Web.

The law seems to be on Kim's side, although the rules are clearly not widely understood.

"No notice of copyright is required for material to be protected by copyright," said Mike Godwin, staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "In spite of the fact that people say copyright is in flux online, these principles are pretty much settled."

Many Net users don't know that traditional intellectual property laws apply to the Net.

"It's a pretty gray area," said MacPhail. "I'm certainly sorry that he's upset, and I'd be happy to look into amending the situation."

But she was angry about Kim's demands for $160 in damages per photo.

"He's asking an outrageous amount of money," said MacPhail. "I assume he got an even wider audience for his photos, and I object to his claiming damages."