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.