I went to pick up a friend’s egg share today. Turns out you can’t pick up your eggs before 3:30, so I went to FedEx to print out some wedding stuff (allow me to pollute this last untouched, wedding-free space in my internet universe and say that Jonathan & I am getting married in ten day).
As I was waiting for help with paper quality questions, the man next to me was being denied services because of a copyright issue, and of course I listened closely.
FedEx Employee: Sorry, man. We can’t print that, because of copyright.
Customer: I bought it though.
FedEx Employee: Yeah, you bought a PDF. So you can look at a PDF online. Doesn’t mean you can print it. There’s copyright.
Customer: No, there’s no copyright, I paid for it.
So, obviously both of these positions are wrong. It is a certainty that the material the customer purchased online has some form of copyright associated with it. But since the employee had never actually laid eyes on the document, he had no idea whether copyright on this particular item allowed for printing for personal use.
The customer explained that he merely wanted to print and bind this thing he’d purchased so he could better study for an exam. The employee again explained that he couldn’t just print a book off the internet. These were both legitimate positions, but the messiness of “well…it depends” was not going to be part of their conversation.*
Internet, I really couldn’t help joining the conversation at this point. I’m no copyright expert, but I suspected there would be language on the first few pages of the document specifying what could and could not be done with it. I suggested to the customer that he take his USB key to the library and ask for help at the reference desk. “They’ll let me know what I can do with it?” The customer asked.
If I hadn’t had to pick up my eggs, I would have walked back with him and helped him personally, because actually getting access to a public computer at Robarts is pretty complicated. But the people at the desk, they’d be there and ready for him.
* I fully understand that FedEx needs to cover their butt, and that “we won’t print something off the internet after you’ve explicitly called it a book ” is probably a necessary position for them to take.