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Is Your Favorite Public Interest Group (Unnecessarily) Copyrighting Their Work?

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When writing articles on legislation for the Congressional wiki I work on, Congresspedia.org, I often look around at what the various public interest groups have to say about what's in a bill and what their take on it is. Many groups write their reports so well that I'd often like to just copy and paste their whole take into the wiki, exposing their message to its many readers. Unfortunately, all to often I'm stopped in my tracks by a copyright notice at the bottom of a group's website. Many - perhaps most - public interest groups are unnecessarily hamstringing their own effectiveness and reach by using the same copyright protections that prevent Mickey Mouse knock-offs and xeroxed Harry Potter books. Our copyright laws are designed to protect profits by keeping information from being freely disseminated, but unlike Disney or Simon & Schuster, most public interest groups want their research, opinions and publications to spread, unencumbered, through the public.

The advent of the Web has infinitely expanded that potential as reports no longer have to be mail-ordered or press releases picked up by reporters to get your message out. That is, unless you copyright your materials, preventing them from finding their way into Wikipedia, blogs or the classroom. You may even be copyrighting materials without knowing it - since 1989, U.S. law assumes an implicit copyright on all published materials, regardless of whether a webpage or document has a copyright notice.

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Hidden Money + Advocacy = Doubt

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The involvement of several non-profit advocacy groups in the debate over the Air Force's $40 billion air-refueling tanker contract highlights how important transparency is for not just the government, but also for those that ask us to trust their opinions of it. (Quick synopsis of the controversy: Boeing won the contract in 2003, then it was suspended after an Air Force staffer was successfully prosecuted for corruption related to the deal, then Northrop Grumman and European Aeronautic Defence and Space won the contract and now Boeing is contesting that.) One of the groups, Citizens Against Government Waste, has been recruiting others to join their support of the Northop contract, which they see as a better value for taxpayers. An opposing set groups, including Frontiers of Freedom and the Center for Security Policy, are backing Boeing on the grounds of keeping major arms contracts within the U.S. The problem for the Washington Post reporters covering the story was that, after some digging, they found that several of the groups had taken funding from either Boeing or Northop and were collaborating with the companies on their advocacy efforts. The cynicism this practice caused was palpable in the piece:

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