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Copyrights regarding Web Forums?



5:59 am on Nov 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

On a web forum who owns the copyright to the content?

Is there any copyright protection to content on a web forum? If so, who does it protect- the owner of the domain or the person who freely wrote and submitted the article?

In particular, if a forum requests and allow people to submit Articles/Guides, etc...then pick the best to display in your "Articles" section who owns the copyright?

I did an Advanced Google search on webmasterworld on this issue and didn't find anything.





6:46 am on Nov 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Not sure about the rules in other countries, but in the U.S. the author of the post or article owns the copyright. Anyone wanting to use information outside the fair use rule has to request the author's permission. However, as a forum owner, you can add verbage to your terms where visitors agree upon registration that they give permission for you to license any content they submit. The author(s) though own the copyright not those running the forums.


5:15 pm on Nov 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


Thanks for the heads up.




1:52 am on Nov 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

So, unless a person states within their posts that they do not allow use of their works, people can take your posts and put them wherever they want?

I ask, because A message board was just created by someone who took every reply to a specific topic in another websites forum, and put it into his, to continue the debate that began there. The forum in the original site was closed, and apparently he had more to say. Now, thatís fine- but to take every reply from that other website and cnp it into his own seems like stealing to me.

(my dilemma of the week)


2:09 am on Nov 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

If the site owner who copied the whole thread to the other forum owned both sites, and if his TOS reserved the right to use posted content in that manner, then he may well have been within his rights.

Mair, you raised an interesting point - what if the poster specifically reserves rights in his post? I'm no lawyer, but if the post was made on a forum with published TOS, I don't think the poster would invalidate the site's terms with his own boilerplate. But then again, lawyers can make cases out of anything.

On forums I run (NOT referring to WebmasterWorld, where I'm just a mod!), I wouldn't allow posters to create their own terms and restrictions - I'd remove the posts & caution the posters. If nothing else, a sig line that contains legal verbiage about intellectual property is annoying and obnoxious. If their brilliant remarks are so valuable, let 'em start their own forum. ;)


1:51 pm on Nov 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I might as well just post the exact example, instead of being cryptic lol...

On the first domain's forums, a man came onto the message board and brought up a sensative topic. By the end of the heated discussion, the webmaster ended up closing the forums all together. Let me explain first, that the website's forums is an aid to increase tourism to this particular area. Its purpose was not to debate whatever hot topic is at hand. It is a small community, and well... anyhow...

Now, the mystery man... Peaved that the board was discontinued, copy and pasted every response in those forums, to his own. I certainly didn't agree to this, nor did I grant my opinions that were meant for that website to be posted on any other, especially since this man seems to be using our posts in some sort of "investigation". Its all weird man!

Check it out and tell me what u think the legal rights are here... obviously, I'm aware that the responses to this will be pretty much, opinion... But, curiosity yano.. :o)

[edited by: rogerd at 2:15 pm (utc) on Nov. 3, 2003]
[edit reason] Sorry, no URLs per the TOS [/edit]


2:18 pm on Nov 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Since "mystery man" copied the posts to an unrelated site, that would almost certainly be a copyright violation. The proper approach would be for the first site owner to contact the infringer and ask them to remove the copied content. Individual posters could, of course, also contact the second site.

By the way, mair, welcome to WebmasterWorld!


3:11 pm on Nov 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Well. This is certainly not going to be pretty.
I requested that he remove my posts from his website, and this is the response I received.

Your permission is not required. The post became public domain when you
elected to put it on the web. Your posts will stay on the board.


Oh, and thanks for the welcome, I like to start out my correspondance with a bang! :o)


8:38 pm on Nov 5, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Unfortunately, mair, the most common response to this kind of complaint seems to be stonewalling. Either they ignore complaints, or reply with bogus logic like, "The post became public domain when you elected to put it on the web." (Needless to say, content placed on a web site does not automatically enter the public domain - unless, perhaps, the site TOS specifically states that.)

At this point, you have to decide what it is worth to pursue this, particularly since it seems like the original site owner should be the one doing it. Quite a few other threads here deal with ways to pursue copyright violators, as well with the difficulties if a site owner is reluctant to cooperate.


8:56 pm on Nov 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

The general rule is:

If there is no explicit TOS, then the author owns the copyright in the written message, however the forum owner retains copyright in the overall compilation of the forum and the forum owner has an implicit license to use your message as part of the forum by virtue of that implicit license. If the forum owner wants to start selling or using the forum otherwise then it's another set of questions - because this may violate the implicit license. For example, when you post a message to netnews, you implicitly license your message to be replicated and distributed around the world via the netnews system; however you didn't implictly license someone to produce a CD archive of your message and sell it (the sneaky way around this is that the implicit license probably does allow for incremental CD distributions that are effectively a sneakernet version of netnews's TCP/IP protocol).

If there is an explicit TOS, then what the TOS says goes - but remember that a TOS cannot override statutory (i.e. copyright - fair use) law or human rights law. AFAIK copyright law makes assignment of copyright necessary by written signature, so a TOS is not able to state that you are assigning your copyright to the forum owner, however the TOS could state that you are giving the forum owner a broad license to use your message in any way they want, whereas an implicit license would be narrowly scoped.

Given what you have stated, it seems:

* you own the copyright in your message

* the owner of the copyright in the forum closed the forum

* the person who copied the *entire* forum, is likely to be infringing your copyright, and the copyright of the forum owner (and the copyright of all the other message posters ...).

* if that person had just copied one thread, then they may have a good argument under "fair use" for review and criticism, but I doubt that this extends to copying the entire forum. If your message is part of the one thread they are concerned with, they may be able to remove all other infringing messages and just retain that one thread under "fair use".

* once you have given the implicit license, by estoppel you cannot revoke that license: i.e. you cannot demand that the forum owner remove your message (under french law, you can revoke copyright, interestingly).

* however, you can demand that the person who copied the entire forum remove your message: as you are the owner of the copyright in the message, and that person has an infringing copy: so you are entitled to request that they remove it, or you can take legal action for infringment, or an action such as filing a DMCA take down notice against their ISP/Google/SE's who are the intermediate parties.

Regarding rescoping your license in a message, this would be possible, subject to a number of issues, e.g. is the rescoping contrary to the TOS or implicit license you have already agreed it?

Disclaimer: This is not advice, seek a properly trained professional.


9:05 pm on Nov 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Whoah. Thats alot of information. Thank you very much; looks like I came to the right place :)

I appreciate it.



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