Legally Blogged

Going with the first pun that comes into my head may not be the best way to title these things. Anyhow…

As it turns out, my entry into realm of blogging went even less smoothly than I might have imagined. Just when I had gained a sense that almost no one would be reading anything I was saying, and I had begun to develop the sort of quickly-written-yet-still-worked-over voice that I always do in such a vacuum, another human being reached out from the emptiness of the internet to “comment” on my new endeavor.

How strange it was to discover that WordPress wanted me to “approve” this mysterious written communiqué, and how much stranger to discover that its writer was actually commenting to voice their displeasure with my “use” of their blog, insofar as I had linked to it. I had actually linked to a post from their blog as an “example of lousy blogging,” (the link was contained within the word “example”) but my simple linking, rather than the flip criticism, was the reason for the complaint (at least as far as was openly expressed).

That’s just as well… their post really was an example of lousy blogging (I’ll leave specific names and web address out since backtracking and the all seeing eye of Google peer into even these inconsequential reaches of the internet, and I don’t wish to cause further aggravation, but one can find their way to the blog in question quite easily via the prior comment). And my low opinion doesn’t seem to have had much effect, as the writer has already added a second edition of the very post that I singled out. Haters gonna hate and bloggers gonna blog their unique-as-a-snowflake opinions on celebrities and fashion faux pas, I suppose.

A bigger realization for me, however, was that writing even a silly little blog like this one really is “self-publishing” in a somewhat formal sense, and as such may need to be taken seriously at times. By that I mean that one apparently cannot blog without some knowledge of the legal status of internet content. How unpleasant! It’s as if I’m keeping a largely private (because uninteresting) diary, but that I could be sued (hypothetically) for going about it the wrong way.

I asked the party offended by my link what rules I might have missed, and received this response: “For future references [sic], you will have to do your own research on the in’s and out’s of permission for sharing blogs. There is lots of fine print that I couldn’t possibly get into.” This immediately raised my suspicions. It would be impossible for them just to summarize the general idea, or the ultimate effect of the “fine print”? Come on, this sounds like refuge being taken behind the mere implication of jargon and litigiousness.

Still, to avoid stepping on any more electronic toes, I decided to do my own research. I discovered that, while linking to online content does not have a clear legal status, it is unlikely that linking would be understood as copyright infringement in court. The most compelling analogy, to me at least, is that a web address is not intellectual property any more than a street address is. Websites might be able to protect themselves from linking with “shrink-wrapped” user agreements (which users must go through in order to see any content, similar to a notice printed on shrink wrap around a physical product), but anything less is not likely to hold up in court. The blog to which I linked certainly falls into the “anything less” category; it has no posted user agreement or usage policy of any kind (understandable for a blog, but less understandable for someone claiming unusual copyright protection). As for asking permission to link to blogged content, it turns out that some people would find such a request annoying to deal with, or even a bit insulting (most believe that the internet is supposed to be an open community, after all).

So my intuition seems to have been right. The offended blogger, as far as I can tell, had no right to demand that I take the link to their blog down, nor to suggest that I had failed to gain proper permission before posting the link. Of course they had every right to ask nicely for me to take the link down, and I probably would have responded favorably to such a request. Hell, they didn’t ask at all nicely, and I still took the link down out of respect.

As real self-publishing, blogging may produce some unnerving moments like this, but I think the lesson here is not to be intimidated by someone taking a vaguely juridical tone. Obviously enough, if the legality of some kind of content is called into question, then someone ought to be able to point to a specific law, or at least a summary of one. Otherwise… just try to take it easy.

One final note: I became interested in the (probably not carefully chosen) language of the original complaint about my link. “Take me down from this site immediately,” they said “You do not have my permission to use my blog. Thank you.” The notable words there seem to be “me” and “use.” It’s odd that someone would refer to their blog (or indeed a link to their blog) as “me,” and to a link to their content as a “use” of that content. It seems clear that your blog isn’t “you” any more than your notebook is “you,” and that “using” an address wouldn’t be “using” the corresponding building or mailbox. Cyberspace, as something rather different from usual physical reality, seems to encourage strange metaphors like these, and some such metaphors might encourage people to be more attached to or protective of online content than they might be if online content were addressed more directly. I’ll probably pick this issue up later on…

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About Twelverton "TwelveOs" O'Shankley

There's not much to tell, frankly. I grew up in Seven Hills (the suburb of Brisbane Australia), my father Sevenworth O'Shankley made calculators and my mother ThreeGee Mobile-Telecommunications-O'Shankley was a radio tower. I think I'll leave it at that because personal branding is hard.
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3 Responses to Legally Blogged

  1. Pardon me for entering your private world, hee hee, but you make some brilliant points which should actually be shared. (You did say you wanted to go down in cyberspace history which means the world should be watching you.)

    I, too, am stunned when people, who clearly graduated from high school, seem to lose all contact with the memory of how you could get suspended from school for plagiarism. However, in this case, to misquote P.T. Barnum, there is an idiot born every minute. Good on you for not letting small minds on the web beat you down.

    A link requires no permission nor is copyrightable. It comes under the international Copyright Fair Use coverage which permits quotes and links with citation. It’s clear that the intended “use” of the link wasn’t about copyright (that only clouded the issue) but about using the site as a poor example, thus pointing criticism.

    While I’m one of the pickiest people when it comes to spelling and grammar and proper usage of trademarked names, I learned an invaluable lesson a very long time ago. If someone is passionate and their enthusiasm is catching as they write about their passion, it’s amazing how forgiving we all are of contextual errors. If someone is positive, they will attract and even demand positive energy around them, and the reverse is true. So we forgive them the small errors because they demand we do so by their generous spirit.

    On the reverse, negative folks will find wrong and accusations in every corner of the globe, online and off. Once you are in their ken, you can’t win as their negative demands they win.

    Good on you for not letting yourself be snared. You keep the positive going and the world will eventually right itself into balance.

    Now, I have a favor. Your coverage of this topic is beautiful. We just had a plagiarism issue in my WordPress class I’m teaching and I’d love to use your post as a lesson to all. May I? I won’t copy, just link and quote as a reference, recommending to many that this is one of the best lessons that needs to be learned early – in case it was forgotten in high school.

    Thank you.

    • Woah! As you have already gathered, I really didn’t expect anyone outside of my class in Texas to see any of this, let alone leave a lengthy and positive comment, so I am just blown away! I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised when WordPress authors backtrack their way here after I link to their pages, now that it’s happened twice. If anything, I feel encouraged to include more linking in the future, just to see what happens.

      As I read your take on positivity and negativity, I remembered an issue which came up during my research on linking: whether or not positive and negative treatments of linked content should be handled differently in terms of asking for permission to link. On various sites, many writers suggested that authors should want as much exposure for their content as possible, and thus that any linking should be appreciated. This led others to ask if linking in a negative light should be an exception. Ultimately it seems that it shouldn’t be, but I imagine that the response to my link might have been different if I had praised rather than criticized. Funny how these things can be approached from emotion rather than principle.

      Anyway, thanks very much for your encouragement, and especially for making your knowledge available to others via your blog (and for giving me even more information in your comment). I really appreciate it!

      Feel free to link to this post in your class, I’d be happy to have anyone else learn from my experience.

  2. Pingback: What, Where, Whose is Cyberspace? | Twelve Os

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