The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) has filed a complaint with the FTC charging a number of media companies, including two publishers, with misrepresenting copyright in their products.

The CCIA, which has been in existence since 1972 and counts Google (in the group for less than a year) and Yahoo among its members, claims that these notices mislead consumers, and wants the FTC to make the companies revise them. Those in the book industry counter that publishers mislead no more than CCIA's own members do, and some have called the action hypocritical.

The complaint, filed earlier this month, is in step with the CCIA's new campaign to raise awareness about the public's “rights” in the ongoing battle between consumers and creative rights owners over intellectual property. To that end, the slogan of the campaign is “Defend Fair Use” and a Web site,, outlining ways in which companies misstate copyright law, has been created.

In the complaint, the CCIA singles out what it deems two examples of overstated copyright warnings in books—one from the Penguin title The Lost Men: The Harrowing Saga of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party and another from the Harcourt title The Republic of Pirates. The warnings are, it says, “misrepresentations of the law.”

Will Rodger of the CCIA admitted that these two books were picked, to an extent, at random. “What we did is look through books available on the shelves in various bookstores and libraries. I can't say we went through and did an exhaustive search,” Rodger said, nevertheless adding that “bad notices like these are the rule, rather than the exception.”

Since publishers do not use a boilerplate copyright warning, the language on copyright pages varies from title to title, within imprints as well as houses. The copyright warning in Republic of Pirates—which is detailed in CCIA's complaint and states that no part of the book “may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording....”—is, Rodger said, a prime example of how publishers mutate fair use. According to copyright law, he said, works can, for example, be reproduced in small fashion for educational purposes.

Though the CCIA has no definitive wish list for what it would like to see come out of its complaint—Rodger said the group wants publishers to “acknowledge the balance between the producer and consumer of information” in copyright warnings—the document has irked publishers who see it as something of a publicity stunt.

Allan Adler, v-p for legal and government affairs at the AAP, pointed out that the terms of use on many CCIA member sites—including Google, Monster and Sun Microsystems—are, like the publishers' copyright warnings, filled with restrictive language. The reason fair use is not outlined more clearly in copyright warnings, Adler explained, is because the law is so complex. Who would benefit, he asked rhetorically, if book publishers started citing numbered sections from the copyright code?

Intellectual property lawyer Martin Garbus, who did not see the copyright statements the CCIA singled out from Penguin and Harcourt, said he thinks little will come of the complaint. “Google wants access to as much content as they can get, and they're not going to touch copyrighted materials. So, yes, publishers exaggerate their copyright claims. Will they continue to do so in the future? I suspect so.”

As Adler finally noted, this seems like nothing more than the pot calling the kettle black. “This group, which has adopted such a holier-than-thou attitude, really needs to look to its own practices to understand they are no better than the ones they condemn.”