Frequently Asked Questions About True’s Copyright

There are enough questions about this, it gets its own FAQ.

  1. Can I print True out for my friends?
  2. Can I set up an auto email reflector?
  3. Storing True on your hard disk
  4. Can I lift excerpts?
  5. Doesn’t True violate news service copyrights?
  6. How about posting it on my company Intranet?
  7. Can I post excerpts on my blog, web page, newsgroup, etc.?
  8. I work for a radio station/newspaper; can I read True over the air/print it in our paper?
  9. But I can take some and claim “Fair Use”, right?
  10. I love it! How do I get more?
  11. The Bottom Line.


1. Can I print True out, copy it, and pass them out to my friends?

No. True is for personal use only and may not be copied, except that you may manually forward a copy of the free email version only to a friend by email. If your family/friends want to receive True each week, they should get their own subscriptions.


2. Can I send True to a large list of people by email, or set up an automatic reflector or mailing list?

No. See Question #1.


3. The copyright notice says “storage on … information retrieval systems” is prohibited. Does that mean I can’t keep it on my hard disk?

Strictly speaking, no, but go ahead and read it first! What I want to prohibit is people keeping “archives” of Trues — copies of many issues — on their systems, or alternative distribution sources. The way I pay for this whole thing is to sell books compiling the columns each year — so you can keep getting it for free — and archives reduce the value of the books. So while it doesn’t really matter if you have an issue sitting around until you get around to reading it, please don’t store an archive. (For information about the books, click here.)


4. Can I quote one or two items for my joke list, if I give you full credit for doing it?

No, True may not be sent out to a list (see Question #2).

4a) Well, actually, I was thinking of picking out my favorites and passing them along, but I’ll give you full attribution.

No; I don’t even sell rights to newspapers anymore — and they paid! But feel free to tell people that they can get the weekly feed by email if you think they’ll enjoy True. Forwarding is, as the copyright notice makes clear, an “all or none” proposition, and forwarding to a large list is never allowed without prior, written permission.


5. But doesn’t True violate the copyright of the news sources you credit? And therefore, isn’t your copyright invalid so I can do anything with it that I want?

No. True does not violate any copyrights. Facts and ideas cannot be copyrighted — by anyone (which is why so many books and movies are similar). But the expression of those facts and ideas — the “value” that the author adds by putting interpretation and thought into it — is what gets copyrighted. I (and other True contributors) rewrite the news items using the facts from the stories using our own styles, but never copy the expression or style of the news source. True is written with its own expression, and, of course, adds our commentary; these are the elements that we copyright, and such is well recognized as completely legitimate (read, for instance, any Dave Barry column: he writes about news stories, but doesn’t run them verbatim. We also write about news stories, and in a journalistic style that may look like it’s a copied article, but it is actually a highly stylized summary — plus, obviously, the editorial comments).


6. I’m the administrator of a corporate/government Intranet. Can I put True on my system?

No — True is for personal use only. See Question #1.


7. I’d like to post a story on my blog, web page, Facebook page, or other wide-ranging means of distribution. OK?

No, not OK. And please tell me about any sites you find you think are in violation of the copyright — I have paid monetary rewards those who told me about violations! I welcome others to have links to this site on their pages if they wish — please link to the home page.

The only exception to this is the free True-a-Day system, which gives you a way to put a new story every day on your blog or web site.


8. The news at the radio station I work at is particularly dull. Can I get permission to read True over the air?

Sorry DJs: we have never licensed True for broadcast use.


9. Wouldn’t it be “fair use” if I only copied True once in a while, or only little pieces of it?

If you are a reviewer for a publication, the “fair use” provision of the copyright law might cover you if you are reviewing True for your publication. You would be in the best shape, though, if you asked for permission even in this case. For more on fair use and other general aspects of copyright (i.e., not pertaining specifically to True), see Brad Templeton’s excellent and easy-to-understand article, 10 Big Myths about Copyright Explained. In other words, no: “fair use” does not apply to swiping pieces of True: it is a violation of ethics, copyright law, and the creators’ rights.


10. This stuff is great. How do I get back issues?

By picking up the books! Info on how to get This is True books is available right here. There are also thousands of stories in the searchable online archive at all times.


11. But why, oh why, can’t I do what I want with True? I’ll give you full credit!

Hey: you’re getting a great deal — entertaining, thought-provoking stuff delivered to your computer for free. But please remember that a copyright is property, and it’s my property! Please help to protect and control that property so that you can keep getting it for free. My copyright terms are already pretty generous; please respect the limitations on that generosity.

I also don’t agree that “credit” is a fair exchange for our hard work — that means you are dictating the price I charge for the work we do, and “credit” is far from enough. Also, note that “I’m not making any money from this!” is not a valid defense of copyright infringement. The point of copyright law isn’t that you don’t make any money from stealing our work, the point is we are ripped off when you steal from us. You don’t “make money” when you steal food from a grocery store, either, but that doesn’t mean the grocer isn’t harmed, does it?

Note, too, that by having a subscription in the first place, you have already agreed to the terms of service, which among other things state that you agree follow the copyright rules.

So the bottom line is: either abide by the copyright or don’t read it, and don’t use it. Simple enough!