Field of Science

Fair Use & FedEx

And now for something completely different:One private citizen's trials and travails trying to convince FedEx to print posters.

I have wanted a map of Hong Kong on my wall for some time. The Survey & Mapping office of the Hong Kong government helpfully provides some free maps for public use on their website. You will notice how the website helpfully includes a "free maps"logo, along with a copyright notice forbidding only commercial use of the map. Presumably they thought this was a good way of providing some publicity for the Special Administrative District.

They did not take into account FedEx Office. I put this map on a USB stick and went to the FedEx Office at Government Center to have it printed. The manager there refused to print it as I didn't have proof of copyright ownership. I showed him the website (particularly where it says "free maps"). He said the fact that the map is free for public use was irrelevant; he needed a signed document from the copyright owner (the government of Hong Kong) stating that I, personally, had the right to print off the map.

His explanation for his refusal was simple: "I can't get between me and the copyright holder." I pointed out that he was getting between me -- who wants to print the map -- and the copyright owner -- who also wants me to print the map. He repeated that even so, he "can't get between me and the copyright holder." This was just repetition, so I pointed out again that the map is clearly labeled for public use. He said that was just "he said/she said" business; what he needed was a signed document.

I'm curious what he would do with a signed document in Chinese, and whether he would require a notarized translation. I realized as I was leaving that at the beginning when the manager was trying to establish whether I had the right to print the map, he had asked me if I was a member of the organization that made the map -- that is the Hong Kong government. I'm curious what would have happened if I had said yes.

The "copyright waiver"

This is not the 1st time that I've had a run-in with the copyright police at FedEx. Last year the Palo Alto FedEx refused to print a poster that I was supposed to present at a conference at Stanford. I study story comprehension in small children, and a common practice is to use stories about familiar characters. In this case, I had stories about Dora the Explorer and a few other cartoon characters. Because my poster showed an example of one of the pictures that we had drawn to go with the stories, FedEx initially refused to print the poster, saying that it violated copyright.

After a long discussion about fair use and noncommercial uses, one of the employees remembered that they have a “copyright release” form that they can use in these circumstances. Unfortunately, they couldn't find any blank copies. One enterprising employee simply wrote the words “copyright release” on a piece of paper and asked me to sign that piece of paper.

I wasn't sure about the wisdom of signing and essentially blank piece of paper (you can see a photo of it on the right), so they came up with another plan, which was to whiteout all the writing on a previously filled out form, which they then copied (not waiting for the whiteout to dry and getting white out all over their copier in the process) and which I signed. Then they printed my poster and I went on to have an otherwise successful conference.

Copyright and FedEx

Clearly somebody has instilled the Fear of the Lord into the  employees at FedEx with regards to copyright infringement. FedEx is understandably concerned about their liability, since unlike me, they have actual assets. I also realize that FedEx may not have the resources to have somebody on staff who has been adequately trained to deal with copyright issues ... but in that case, it suggests that maybe they do not have the resources to run a print shop. After all, it is not like they are not making determinations now. They are just doing it randomly and incorrectly.


Michael Phillips said...

I always use their web submission system for that sort of thing.

wojskowy angielski testy said...

Only in America! That's what I call exaggeration. This love of freedoms is killing freedoms at the same time. American paradox.