Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Use, Reuse and Abuse

Posterous There was a little flurry of excitement over the weekend when someone took exception to another blogger reposting an article from their site. I'm deliberately leaving out the names and the details of this incident, but if the people involved wish to identify themselves, please do.

Personally, I'm much less bothered about others reusing my material than I used to be, although I do fret slightly (not much) about attempts to make money on the back of it. These days, if I don't want stuff reused, I don't put it online, otherwise it's fair game. My blogs get reposted by numerous scrapers trying to make money from Adsense, but that doesn't bother me any more, a) because I know it's impossible to stop, b) because with the collapse of Adsense revenues, it's just another distribution channel for my output, which I welcome.

The issue at the weekend was the use of Posterous and what counts as sufficient attribution for reuse of content. As you may know, I got fed up with the sharing features of Google Reader some time ago and started to use Posterous as a clipblog to republish interesting items from RSS feeds I subscribe to. At Son of SoTI, I repost education and technology-related items, usually with a very short commentary expressing my opinion. In contrast to Google Reader shared items, I know that hundreds of people read this site and I get a reasonable level of interaction with them via comments. I also post microbiology-related news stories on my MicrobiologyBytes Posterous clipblog, but usually without commentary. (Hmm, maybe I should start.)

The sources of nearly all the items I post are RSS feeds I subscribe to, and I rarely if ever visit the sites they originate from. Consequently, I tend not to post partial RSS feeds, but I occasionally post on Son of SoTI using the Posterous bookmarklet or Kwout. What this means is that unless copyright information is contained within the RSS feed, I probably won't see it - I don't go looking on the site of origin. Not legally defensible, but I'm always happy to remove items if anyone objects. I can't defend this approach to content reuse in legal terms, but in terms of moral rights, I feel justified in what I do in terms of providing a service to others by republishing.

Obviously, attribution is the key to all this, and accidental or deliberate plagiarism is a no-no. In the incident at the weekend, most of the offence seemed to have been caused by the placement of the attribution on the reposted article. (Full RSS stories to Posterous via email places the attribution at the top of the reposted materials, the Posterous bookmarklet places the attribution at the bottom). Each individual needs to derive their own position of reuse of their material, but if it bothers you, I would suggest:
  1. Make sure terms of use/reuse are posted clearly on your site, but more importantly, within your RSS footer.
  2. If that's not restrictive enough for you, consider publishing partial rather than full RS feeds (although I won't be subscribing to you and so probably won't see what your publish if you do this).
  3. And if that's still not enough, consider not publishing online. Who loses, and who gains?