Copyright Imbroglio Entangles a Work That Web Gave Away

Tom Petzinger

Wall Street Journal -- October 10, 1997

NB: Objective of global effort = "Popularize Maslow." Assigned by Ivor K. Davies, Indiana University as challenge.


People who own intellectual property tend to be terrified of the Internet. They shouldn't be, as the odd tale of an obscure masterwork shows.

A few months ago, I wrote a column about a 1965 book by Abraham Maslow, the great pioneer of humanistic psychology and motivation theory. Despite some quirky writing and the ghastly title "Eupsychian Management," Dr. Maslow's book was years ahead of its time in advocating collaboration and trust in business. Coining "synergy" and "enlightened management" as business expressions, it shaped the later work of Peter Drucker, Peter Senge and other eminent theorists.

Though the book was out of print, I wrote the column after learning the entire text was available on the World Wide Web. Which is where Sam Cannon comes in. Mr. Cannon, 49 years old, has been a social worker, job-skills instructor and trainer for mental health agencies. Today he manages computer systems. "A standard life," he says. "A little home."


Since his undergraduate days, Mr. Cannon had been enthralled with Dr. Maslow's celebration of human potential (as opposed to psychoanalysts' emphasis on neurosis and behaviorists' focus on conditioning). He loved Dr. Maslow's idea of work as a source of fulfillment. [for mature people--ed.]

In 1987 [gosh, twenty years goes fast--ed.], with the written permission of the publisher, Mr. Cannon laboriously typed the entire text of "Eupsychian Management" into a local bulletin-board network, or BBN, a primitive precursor to today's Internet. BBNs later went the way of CB radio , but the advent of the Web soon gave Mr. Cannon a new and larger medium. After receiving a legal opinion that the original permission remained valid--a questionable conclusion, as we shall see--Mr. Cannon posted the text there. [i.e. under ''--ed.]

Enter Dr. Maslow's heirs [after Bertha Maslow's death. She encouraged me--ed.] A year ago his daughter, Ann Kaplan of Indianapolis, on behalf of herself and a sister, acquired the publisher's copyright and engaged an agent in hopes of selling the book for republication. For months, the family's sales efforts were unavailing. But when this column hailed the book last April, publishers suddenly became interested.

Her actions are more understandable on emotional than economic grounds. "Posting full-text books on the Web only encourages print sales," says Kevin Kelly, executive editor of Wired magazine, whose 1994 book "Out of Control" is entirely free for downloading. Mr. Kelly doesn't know a soul who's read his whole book on the Web, but he knows of many whose dabblings caused them to purchase it in print.

"The question," says the technology futurist Esther Dyson, a authority on intellectual property in the on-line era, "is not how to protect copyright, but how to use the content to add value to other items that can be sold."

Notably, Ms. Dyson made this argument in a $695-a-year newsletter, samples of which she makes available for free on the Web. Dr. Maslow himself foresaw this principle, insisting that "generosity can increase wealth rather than decreasing it."

Mr. Cannon, for his part, was bufuddled by the family's demand. He, too, wanted to see the book back in print, a goal his efforts hardly seemed to be retarding. And he did have permission from the publisher, which his lawyer assured him remained binding on Ms. Kaplan. Thus, after removing the text out of respect for the heirs, Mr. Cannon notified them that on Sept. 1 he would restore the book to the Web.

It was long past dark a few days later when a marshal showed up with papers commanding him to federal court the next day. There Ms. Kaplan's lawyer, Alan Wernick, successfully argued that the original permission to post the book on a local network was hardly a license to expose it to the global reach of the Web. [even though anybody, anywhere, could dial up the old gal via copper. But to be fair, my original letter to the publisher was amateurish--it was a kind of "first" and worked for a while until it became a thorn. Besides, it got me out of expanding ptx, which would have killed me--ed];  Ms. Kaplan also demanded damages from Mr. Cannon, including statutory damages that her lawyer estimated could reach nearly $100,000. Ms. Kaplan had no way of knowing that Mr. Cannon's "infringment" helped to trigger the coverage in this newspaper that had actually increased the value of her property.

A few weeks ago I met Mr. Cannon for a melancholy dinner. To him, the legal attack had set back much of his work


Finally, a few days ago, Ms. Kaplan dropped the suit in exchange for Mr. Cannon's promise to destroy all the electronic versions of the book under his control [an easy out for me because there was a copy in Greece for a long time, which was out of my control, I decided. But had I ftp'd it back to, would the new instance be OK to post since I had already zapped the original? (We will wear them down)--ed.] Meanwhile, Wiley & Sons has purchased the book for publication next year. And in the richest irony of all, it's possible that a chunk of the disputed text will wind up whence it came; like an increasing number of publishers, Wiley believes it's good business to let readers sample certain books on the Web. [It was published with a different title, which Maslow would have not permitted, and seemed like a "new work" of sorts which perhaps impacts the "fair use" idea, but I was simply told that I couldn't afford to litigate, as a middle class citizen, so I walked away from it all. --ed]

Reprinted with permission of the author. [Commented by Cannon-hope that's OK]