Who Owns your Words?

Occasionally you find a company that just makes you stop and think.  And ask yourself “why didn’t they stop and think?”  Storming Media is one of those companies, and this is one of those times.  (see next post for more)

Storming Media is fast becoming the place to go to PURCHASE public domain government documents.  Yup, that’s right.  They are selling documents to you that your tax dollars have already purchased.  How do they get away with this?  They do it by providing the added value of having already done the search, and if you want, printing and binding the document.  Well, here it is in their own words:

Storming Media is a private, independent reseller of Pentagon and other US federal government reports on many subjects. Whether you are interested in biochemistry or military strategy, weapons or noise pollution, or anything in between, Storming Media delivers the information you need with speedy and courteous service and with our money-back guarantee that you will be satisfied. You may order any of our government reports in printed and/or downloadable PDF formats.

They also sell copies of research conducted by students at government schoools, to include my former school, AFIT–the Air Force’s Graduate School.   You can imagine the conversations that took place with students when they found their work being sold by this company.  “But it’s mine, how can they make money off it?”

The answer gets a bit convoluted (and actually echoes back to some conversations on Twitter about cheating and ownership.)   No, it is not “yours.”  You wrote it.  Your name is on it.  But since (for the military students) the government paid you to conduct this research, the research and the report are owned by the taxpayers, through the US Government.  They bought it.

Of course, there are perhaps a few wrinkles here.  What if the student actually wasn’t a government employee?  What if, as happens at AFIT through the DAGSI program and others, the student was a civilian, attending and paying tuition?  (And perhaps on a DAGSI scholarship, but that is NOT the same as being paid to attend school.)  Who owns the rights to that document? The author should–but that hasn’t been tested yet.

So back to Storming Media.  They take the works of others already available through electronic means, and will sell you the electronic copy, or will print and bind a copy for you.  And just to be clear, they do not give any royalties to the authors.  Not a penny.  This is legal, but I am not sure it is ethical.

So I ask you, dear reader–do YOU think what they are doing is ethical?  Leave a comment and tell us your thoughts.


5 thoughts on “Who Owns your Words?

  1. That is a bit appalling. A lot of attention has been given to Facebook’s ToS in the past few days, particularly to their (since overturned) policy granting them permanent rights to your content. People have made a big deal about their claims to ownership but, then again, I have yet to see one story or example of Facebook — or MySpace, WordPress, or any other service that claims ownership to material you publish — using photos or blog content in any other way, like Storming Media is doing with compilations of documents.

    With that being said…

    I think the action of reselling material written by others is completely unethical, especially if the authors or owners of that material are not compensated. At the same time, this material is available to the public for free, right? In that case, I think Storming Media is charging not for the material itself but for the service they provide: searching through documents to create a compilation of materials on a topic of a customer’s choosing. In that case, I think they are ethical, particularly since the information is available for free to anyone who isn’t too lazy to search for it on their own.

  2. Easier said than done I would say. Even though it is true that many of these reports should have been paid for with our tax payer’s dollars that does not mean that the government has made it available to us. For example, Storming Media makes SBIR (technology research) final reports available for a fee….well if you talk to the agency that originally funded this research you will find that they have not made the final reports publicly available but they will send you personally the final report if you request that….however you have to pay the agency for that. I think they said they charge four hours of a federal employee’s time for that. So you can either pay the gov, or Storming Media, but it seems that pay you will.

  3. Storming Media is reselling documents provided to the public for free by the Defense Technical Information Center. They harvest our citations and full-text. The inventory number they use is our number inverted. So DTIC ADA 123456 becomes Storming Media A654321. In any case, these documents are available to the public for FREE from http://www.dtic.mil

    Storming Media is not getting SBIR reports from us unless they have been approved for public release. Government acquisitions policy grants a minimum of a 4-year nondisclosure policy to allow SBIRs the opportunity to commercialize their ideas and prototypes.

  4. Storming Media is acting in an unethical way. The perplexing thing about Storming Media is unlike so many other Web-based services; this one has actually driven up access costs to information. Storming Media sells government documents and uses their terms of their service to prevent further distribution of the work. Publications and reports produced at the expense of the government are generally freely available and cannot be copyrighted – Storming Media is taking advantage of its customers, the report authors and the government.

    A free alternative to Storming Media can be found at DoD Reports – http://dodreports.com – the website allows searching in a number of different ways including the author, publisher, abstract and by tags. The reports and documents can be downloaded without restriction.

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