Blog Post: Internet Courtesy

This is a blog I posted from the early days of MiBreviews.  At the time there was a bit of an issue with some blatant repostings of content, some of which linked to the original post and some did not.  I and a group of other fan sites got into a twitter discussion about it, and in order to resolve it in a civil manner, I made this post.  I’m uncertain exactly how much of a dialogue there was, but ultimately it fizzled out.  Still, this information is helpful for anybody who is unclear.

Recently a fan blog was charged informally with a slew of plagiarism and infringement complaints.  I chose not to join in on this in the manner of Club Jade and Knights Archive because I had already completed a polite dialogue with the webmaster of the site.  What I choose to do, instead, is find a way for webmasters who profess ignorance to avoid this issue in the future.

The first thing to realize is that your voice says who you are.  I would never quote Club Jade, because that tone would imply that I am a sassy person with female interests (sorry, been reading a lot of CJ on Twitter).  I would not quote Shakespeare, because he also does not speak the way I do, and Linkara, whom I might enjoy quoting, does not swear.  Ass.

This is one reason why it works so much better to paraphrase things.  How many of you, when asked what a movie is about, say, “an exciting feature about an every day working man who is forced into heroism by unforeseen circumstances”?  No, you probably say, “it’s a movie about so and so actor kicking terrorist ass and explosions”.  Or something else.  Granted, in this “business” (as for most of us, there’s little profit involved), there’s usually some urge to look professional, but most of us manage to sound like organics rather than technologicals when we report news and opinion.

“But what if I want to sound like a sassy female instead of my plain self?” One or two of you may still be asking.  Well, here’s the thing.  Ever repeat one of their words in a conversation, except putting yourself in her place in the story?  There’s a good chance she’s going to slap you.  And if not, you’ve become a liar.  That’s identity theft.  And odds are, the person who was really in the story will have it repeated back to them.  Then, they’ll be pissed.

So let’s say, you’re not out to piss people off.  You’re like the webmaster I spoke to- you’re trying to share the fruits of other people’s work, not necessarily trying to take credit for it.  In order of importance, I’m going to list the steps that I feel are most important to this goal.

One: Don’t take their whole article.  If it’s original work- news, that’s not quite as important (hard to take a partial piece of news sometimes).  Most websites create their content to promote visiting and/or discussing on their site.  Taking the entire piece of work, then, even if you promote them, is damaging their intentions.  It’s tantamount to piracy- if there’s a difference, it’s that most of these people do not receive any monetary compensation for their hours of labor.  Which might make it worse.

Two: Explicit credit where credit is due.  Ask any high school English teacher: citing somebody as a source does not explain that you’ve quoted their entire research paper.  If I may indulge in a vanity example, I’ll use a piece of news I posted today.

You can see in the above link that I separated the quoted section of the post from the rest, prefaced it with the name of the author (as far as I can identify), and used font styles to indicate that it was something different from the rest of the post.  Finally, I linked to the original source, so that readers could watch it for more updates or look at what came before.

Three: Encourage readers to visit the original site.  This can be as simple as redirecting all discussion to the comment section of the original post, or something more extensive such as a description of the author.

Four: When in doubt, ask the author.  This is rarely necessary.  If you’ve followed all three of the steps above, only the most hardened cases will demand “take it down“.  If however, for whatever reason, you’ve skipped one of them, I would make it a highest priority to get in contact with the creator of the content you’re using and clear it with them.

Once you’re past my recommendations, or if you want to know what motivates them, you can check out Fair Use doctrine, which dictates when it is legal to use work created by another person without purchasing rights.

That said, despite much consideration on my part after recent incidents, I have decided not to change my Creative Commons license.  I would still prefer for viewers of my content to be directed to my site, where they can comment, find more, and be counted, but I feel at this point that it would be hubris to restrict the number of places my content was posted on.

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