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A person posts a text to Usenet

  • that he has signed using an obvious pseudonym
  • that does not include a functioning address for himself
  • that does not refer to a publisher other than himself.

Together with the text he includes a notice saying

  • that further publication in any medium except as a Usenet article which is identically accredited and contains an identical notice is strictly prohibited unless he, proving his authorship, specifically issues a licence for such publication

  • that in particular printing rights are strictly reserved, which he defines as meaning that it should be assumed that printing his text is strictly prohibited unless he, proving his authorship, specifically issues a licence to do so.

A second person reads the text on Usenet and publishes it in print form or as an e-book without having been granted such a licence.

Would the author be able to win a claim against that person for copyright violation? Assume of course that he identifies himself and proves his authorship when making the claim.

I am interested in answers for both the English and the United States jurisdictions. I am not sure what grounds the second person might reasonably adduce in defence against such a claim, but they might include for example

  • that regardless of the content of the notice the text should be considered to be in the public domain by dint of having been posted to Usenet
  • that if a pseudonymous author chooses to make himself uncontactable, unlike the many anonymous and pseudonymous authors who can be contacted through their publishers, then his assertion that he reserves rights is absurd
  • other grounds.

Note: I have read R Deazley and K Patterson, Guidance Note: Copyright in Pseudonymous and Anonymous Works, 2nd ed. (2017), which references statutes relevant to the English jurisdiction and also the Berne Convention but does not cover the case where a text is accredited to a pseudonymous author without a publisher being specified other than himself and where the author issues a notice of prohibition as described and retains the ability to prove authorship at a later date.

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In the US, the author would be able to wind an infringement lawsuit against the re-publisher. Title 17, the US copyright law codified, grants the author the exclusive right to authorize republication, and does not require that a person use their real name. The argument "It was on the internet, it's in the public domain" is utterly without legal merit. The same goes for the assertion that a person loses his rights if he is uncontactable. The author has stated the terms of the license, so there isn't even a reasonable argument that the infringement is innocent (unknowing: "I thought it was with permission). There is no requirement that you have to allow a potential user to hassle you about the license terms.

The one thing that is special regarding anonymous and pseudonymous works is that under 17 USC 302, "copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication, or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first". For a work whose author is identified, copyright "endures for a term consisting of the life of the author and 70 years after the author’s death".

This assumes that the host site has not preempted author's license: Stack Exchange, for example, preempts an author's exclusive right, so you can copy stuff from here accorting to the SE terms of usage.

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