A Little About Copyright and This Blog

Occasionally I get messages along the lines of “can I share this?” Sometimes people want to copy, use, or replicate my writing. And why not? I’m basically setting up the steno media empire so that we can all benefit from the expansion of our industry.

I want your faces to be in print. I want everybody to know just how important stenographers are.

In the United States, copyright is automatically granted for any kind of creative work. Stenonymous’s blend of news and commentary certainly carries as a creative work, and to the extent that it is, I own copyright to it. But it’s my public promise that I will never, ever enforce copyright on any blog post posted to Stenonymous.

That said, some of the images or writing I use, I do not own the copyright to. Some of it I use under fair use doctrine. In a nutshell, the government acknowledges the importance of creative works in advancing humanity. After all, look at the reverence some have for Fyodor Dostoevsky and his stenographer wife Anna. That was a long time ago, but the writing survives. Writing and creative works are valuable. Our United States government therefore protects creative works by giving them all copyright upon creation. Have you ever drawn a unique character or written a unique poem? It was copyrighted. The government must also balance this against the public interest. If we cannot reproduce portions of creative works, then how can we discuss them meaningfully? If we cannot discuss things, how can we advance? This is where fair use comes in. In my layperson, non-lawyer nutshell, fair use is basically using stuff for parody, public commentary, non-commercial use. There’s no one-size-fits-all glove for this issue. By protecting discovery via patent, creativity via copyright, and brand by trademark, the government has attempted to balance the importance of incentivizing creators by awarding them exclusive rights with the importance of free speech, education, public interest, and debate.

A good marker for this is “am I profiting or benefitting from ripping off this person’s work in a way that is not transformative, educational, or artistic?” For example, if I was to take the text from a book like Tomas by our fellow court reporter Jason Meadors and start distributing it for free on Google Docs, I would be violating his copyright, or if he’s sold or shared copyright privileges, I would be violating the owner of the copyright’s rights. Think about it. I’m not doing anything transformative or funny with it. Meanwhile, if I tell you it’s a great book that I started reading years ago, and somebody in my household threw it out without my permission, and now I have to buy a new one because of them, it’s now more in the realm of fair use if I use an image. I’m teaching you about it. I’m showing you what it is. I’m not devaluing the book because you have to buy it to see the full work. This becomes even more true if I tell my audience it’s great, five stars on Amazon, and really worth a read. I mean, just look at the cover image. It’s about a man with healing powers, and it’s practically designed to make stenographers everywhere cringe*.

Tomas by Jason Meadors. This is also something that happened to me in a nightmare.

Of course, if I really wanted to be safe, I would ask permission. But sometimes that’s not an option or a waste of time. For example, in my prior posts about big companies and digital reporting, some images that they almost certainly own copyright to were used, but then not talking about what’s going on is going to hurt minorities and society as a whole, so I have confidence that it all falls under fair use.

Another important distinction is creative work versus fact. Data publishers do not generally own a copyright on their charts, graphs, and so forth because it is not creative. Again, discoveries and inventions are protected by patents. Our work has this same problem. We are not creating when we take down verbatim notes, we are preserving facts, and that is why we do not get any kind of copyright. We can ask legislatures for copy protection, but we’d need a bigger media presence first in my estimation.

Why go into all this? I just said it. We need to get serious about media and boundaries. We need to know what can be copied and what cannot. Now, just because something is arguably fair use does not mean copyright creators won’t make threats. Anybody can threaten to sue or file a lawsuit. Anyone could file a lawsuit right now against me in Richmond County that says “Chris Day is a bad man and owes me a million dollars.” Chances are high they’d let it be filed and I would have to defend against it. The question is will that person win? And the answer when it comes to copyright is that if it falls under fair use, chances are high they will not. It’s very similar to the adage about criminal justice, you can avoid the RAP but not the ride.

In short, feel free to use my stuff. Be careful about using others’ stuff. But realize that we do not always need to get permission and that it is in fact harmful to impose the need to get permission on ourselves in matters of public importance and education.

*I didn’t talk to Jason about this post at all and am not making any money from this. Now go buy his book. If fantasy is more your jam, my dad writes Mystic Faerie War**.

**I’m a bad son and didn’t ask dad’s permission either. But his passion has always been writing and it’s been so many years of hard work to promote his stuff, so I assume he won’t sue me. Just to be safe though, I’m going to claim fair use and parody this one.

Mystic Faerie War, by James Day

Steno & Me (Under the Sea Parody)

Maybe three years ago I came up with the vast majority of lyrics for a parody of Under the Sea related to steno. In typical Chris fashion, it’s gone unused and unpublished, so I’m going to open it up to the community. Feel free to use this. Be mindful of fair use if you include music or anything like that. I won’t be enforcing copyright on the lyrics to the extent I own any, but Disney just might if you were to rip their music.

The steno is always better…
…in somebody else’s take.
They think they’ll replace us…
…but that is a big mistake!
Just feel the words around you…
…right here on the conference floor!
Don’t let lies confound you!
Stenographer’s what you looking for!

Steno and me.
Steno and me.

Baby, it’s better.
We get every letter.
Take it from me!
Upon the comp transcribe away…
…even if it takes all day!
While they are hatin’…
…we demonstratin’!

Steno and me.

Here all the stenos happy…
…as long as you pay the toll.
And if the job is crappy…
…bring on the alcohol!
But if the alcohol is sucky…
…this job’ll be in late!
And if the boss unhappy…
…it’s me she’ll berate.

Steno and me!
Steno and me!

No one can beat us.
AI won’t defeat us.
You will soon see.
We always play by the book…
…perfecting the resting badass look!
We is just typing…
…calling it writing!

Steno and me.
Steno and me.

Rinse and repeat now.
Type to the beat, wow…
…with alacrity!
Even the secretaries, they…
…want to learn the steno way!
It is just faster…
…to be steno master!

Steno and me.

The court do report.
The CART write with heart.
They get all the words…
…and they play the part.
The last Q was fast.
The A was okay.
Just look how this job shook my soul.
Today, we can say…
…the things this job brings…
…are great but frustrate.
I wish we had wings!
Or an extra hand…
…to get the words on demand.
Just watch those orders grow!

Steno and me!
Steno and me!

With this machine our work is pristine.
I’m sure you’ll agree!
What do they got? A lot of hype?
I sure would like to see them type!

Our steno fam here…
…know how to jam here.
Steno and me

Each steno mug here…
…lets us chug cheer.
Steno and me

Each key we whale here…
…steno never stale, dear.

That’s why it’s brighter…
…to use Steno writer.
We got your service!
Never be nervous…
…with steno and me!

Copyright and Stenography

I created a masterpiece about a week ago. On the left, a very horrifying creature that took about three minutes to create and was instantly copyrighted upon creation. If you took my creation and slapped it on a mug and started selling it, I could probably successfully sue you. On the right, a file snapshot of years worth of transcript work, which could be freely copied by anyone any time, at least ostensibly, as any court that decides this issue seems to decide that transcripts are not expressive work protected under copyright. Sam Glover also wrote about this years ago, but seems to have purged it from his blog. Some courts, like the one in Urban Pacific Equities et al v The Superior Court of Los Angeles County (59 Cal. App. 4th 688, 69 Cal. Rptr. 2d 635), have taken the step of ruling that the transcript does not have to be turned over under a business record subpoena because it is a product of business and not a business record, but this does not necessarily prevent it from being copied if counsel obtains it another way.

Here in New York, we do have guaranteed payment of an original via our General Business Law 399-cc (Transcripts and stenographic services). In that way, I feel the state and legislature has already partially acknowledged the hard work that we do. But it’s no secret that court reporter businesses, for whatever reason, have chosen to make originals cheap, and make their businesses more or less dependent on these copy sales. It’s often reported in social media circles that attorneys at a deposition will openly and in front of the stenographic reporter offer to copy and give the transcript to counsel that would otherwise have to order the transcript from the reporter. Why not? As best anyone can tell, it’s legal! There’s also a darker side to this. If you do not have a clear agreement with your agency stating otherwise, they can probably also legally copy your work and not tell you about it. Again, why not? It’s legal!

The question arises, what do we do about this? Many ideas have been floated over the years. Some say we should change our model to reflect the lost copy sales and consider charging in a different way, like hourly, per diem, or a higher original. Personally, I believe it would not be unfair to create a body of law protecting stenographers’ rights to their work. Transcribers would probably be equally in favor, and it would certainly slow the rate of copying if it were explicitly not legal.

Many ideas have been floated in this regard, including putting it under theft of services. I don’t think anyone supports throwing attorneys in jail over this. That’s unreasonable to me. But I do think it’s fair to create a civil penalty for the copying of transcribed work. Virtually everything else is protected via patents, copyright, or intellectual property laws, and it seems weirdly unfair to have a class of people whose work is wholly unprotected.

I would propose language to the effect of “No person or business entity shall copy, reproduce, publish, or dispose of to another a copy of the transcript of any matter transcribed or stenographically reported. A person or business entity that violates this must pay a copy sale to the stenographer or transcriber that created the original transcript. Such copy sale price shall not exceed the mean average of the stenographer or transcriber’s copy sales for the twelve months preceding the copying, reproduction, publishing, or disposal.”

Now, if we were to propose such law, there’s a strong possibility we would have to make some concessions. Let’s be fair, many of these matters are matters of public domain and importance. I would propose a few important carve outs, such as, “nothing in this law shall be construed to abridge the right of any person to critique, cite, discuss, parody, or utilize a transcript’s content in any expressive matter.” This punches a bit of a hole in the law, but look at fair use in copyright law, and you’ll get what I’m trying to do. Also, “nothing in this law shall prohibit any person from preparing or having prepared by another their own transcript of the same proceeding or matter.”

There are some bigger issues we’d have to deal with. Would this law exclusively cover private transcribers / stenographers and not public employees? That’s a fantastic question. As a stenographer, I’m sure everyone knows where I stand, but as someone who reads a good amount of law, I understand that government work simply works out that way sometimes. I think if we’re serious about a New York City, New York State, or even someday federal law on this, it’s entirely doable. I think the important thing is prohibiting copying while allowing “fair use” type cases that don’t prohibit freedom of speech and expression. Notably, we could always go the way of this proposed Florida rule, which states plainly, “subdivision (g) requires a party to obtain a copy of the deposition from the court reporter unless the court orders otherwise…”

As always, discuss away or email me! It’s always fascinating to see what others have researched. Hopefully, if ever it becomes a serious discussion by our lawmakers, they’ll also get a chance to consult with authorities in our field like NYSCRA, NCRA, or even ASSCR.