Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Blog-related ethical quandary - what do you think?

Suppose you were a regular contributor to the discussion on a local institution's weblog, and in your own weblog you linked to their posts - and to your and others' comments on their posts - frequently.

Suppose the institution - and some individuals - behaved badly, in part toward you, and that their blog made this obvious.

Suppose that - framing the change as a move to be more reader-friendly - they took the weblog offline altogether, redirecting all the old "perma"links to the front page of a new, reader-and-commenter-unfriendly pseudoblog (discarding the old blog's posts and comments).

Suppose that, although you emailed the publisher and (twice) web editor asking if they'd archived the old WordPress blog and if so was there any chance they could put it back online, your questions were never answered*.

Suppose you had access to an archive of the old posts and comments.

Would it be a breach of ethics for you to put it up online somewhere else?

with proper attribution, of course


Lex said...

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. That said ....

Your posts and comments are your own, absent any legal agreement to the contrary. You can do pretty much anything you want with those.

Others' are not, however.

Fair Use would allow you to quote excerpts for the purposes of review or discussion, but just republishing the whole ball of wax without the authors' permission likely would raise issues of copyright.

Anna said...

I suspect you are correct. But it does make for an interesting thought experiment...

Daniel said...

I've already said as much in a private conversation, but here goes again:

Unless you're literally stealing someone else's stuff -- and by that I mean you're taking it off their hard drive after midnight while they're sleeping in the next room -- then I think what you can get from open sources is fair game.

Various caching programs, including The Wayback Machine, provide all sorts of website archives. So if somebody out there wants to try to hide from The Long Tail, good luck. It may not be as easy as scrubbing their html. Somebody out there has the goods on all of us.

Lawyers will tell you all sorts of crap, but if there's a working precedent on this, I don't know what it would be.

Seems to me that if anyone from the public can get a copy of a version of a site that someone has pulled down, then you ought to be able to treat that archived version as a public document. It was willingly placed in the public domain. So what if its author wishes he hadn't ever written it?

You're not talking about taking somebody else's work and calling it your own. You're not selling their work. There's no commercial use involved. Hell, your entire site is solely for the purposes of review and discussion. Author's permission be damned.

If a politician or a public figure scrubbed their website to remove embarrassing statements, any news reporter worth a damn would use open source techniques to find the removed material. And then we'd write stories about it and we'd show our work by posting the link on our website, probably with extended excerpts.

And when the offending figure came around complaining about fair use, every reporter and editor in the building would tell that figure to kiss their collective ass. And they'd be right.


It isn't. If you do it, you may have a fight on your hands, but that's your choice.

Walter Jeffries said...

Daniel is right about you having use of your comments unless you explicitly gave away those rights. It would be hard for someone else to claim that you gave up the rights unless they paid you for them. I would not touch other people's writings that you snarf - that is where you could get into trouble unless you go around and get the permissions from each person for the use of their words. Google and the Way Back Machine is quite useful in this regard.