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…