Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Competing Declarations of Internet Independence get Curmudgeon thinking about how the Intertubes should be managed

... how the Intertubes should be managed, if at all.

I hope to return to this subject again, if you don't mind terribly.

With the Fourth of July nearly upon us I've been seeing all sorts of stuff lately about "Declarations of Internet Independence." Unfortunately, most of my browsing on the subject has come in those sleepy hours after dinner, when focus is impossible and only fleeting impressions can be made.

This morning after court, therefore, I thought I'd try and reconstruct what I've looked at and organize it into a quick and timely post.

That was a couple of hours ago. So much for quick.

First of all, I've found at least three Declarations of Internet Independence in circulation. The oldest, by far, is this one, datelined August 1996 from Davos, Switzerland.

Two more current versions were compared in this post on PC World Australia.

The first of these is the one I'd seen (although, in my twilight consciousness yesterday, I'm not sure where I saw it. On BuzzFeed, perhaps?)

The second of these is, according to the linked Australian post, "from free-market think tanks TechFreedom, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and other groups[; it] calls on governments to 'do no harm' to the Internet and to avoid getting involved in the broadband marketplace."

If you've been following Popehat's coverage of Carreon v. Funny Junk (and, if you haven't, you should -- and the link will take you to all the related posts in one fell swoop) or, even more relevantly, to Popehat's coverage of Kimberlin v. Walker, you'd understand that the legal system seems ill-equipped, or at least ill-prepared, to deal with the collisions among free expression, privacy, and copyright that happen everyday on your very own computer screen (and, perhaps, on your own blog).

Sites like YouTube exist for people to post stuff that interests, amuses or outrages them -- and copyrighted TV shows and movies are among the many things that interest, amuse or outrage YouTube users. Currently, as I understand it, YouTube stays out of trouble by immediately taking down anything when a copyright holder suggests the possibility of infringement.

The mouse on my computer gives me the power to swipe images and huge chunks of content with very little effort. I usually provide links to my sources (of course, even full-time scrapers often do that much). More importantly, I try and provide multiple links in a post and original content analyzing or discussing (or making fun of) the subject for which links are provided. This post, for instance.

If I include a snippet from one of the links, even a fairly lengthy one, it is my belief that I am making fair use of that author's content for an original post. But, at one point, AP was taking the position that more than four words from one of its articles constituted infringement, context be damned. That strikes me as an unreasonable position (and I haven't worried about it -- and I'm too unimportant a blogger for AP to worry about me).

Where someone's content is grabbed and reposted seems important to me, as well. If you think about it, most Facebook posts are the equivalent of stuff our parents used to stick on the refrigerator. The only difference is that a cartoon clipped and posted on a refrigerator was seen by only immediate family and any guests; stuff posted on Facebook may be seen by any user's "friends" -- and reposted ("shared") from there.

But I'm not at all persuaded that there is usually (or even often) any intent to infringe another's copyright by posting to Facebook. For the copyright holder, the abbreviated Facebook posts are really advertising for the original content. From what little I know about Twitter or Pinterest, I think that these may be considered as following a similar approach of advertising-rather-than-infringing.

A blog or other website where someone sells ads however, and reproduces other peoples' content, is fundamentally different. I recall hearing a prominent Chicago TV personality rail recently against the Drudge Report: The creators of that site link to all manner of news stories and sell all sorts of ads on their page showing the compiled links. No compensation is offered to those whose links are compiled, but the compilers earn income from ads which would not be placed but for those links. At least the selection of the links compiled makes the Drudge Report arguably unique and original; presumably a Drudge competitor would compile different links. And, at least in theory, an article or post 'picked up by' the Drudge Report should receive additional traffic than it might have otherwise, thereby potentially providing income to the actual creator of the linked work.

On the other hand, if a compiler provides not only links but also excerpts -- and no discussion or analysis or other original accompanying content -- readers may not be inclined to click through to the original content. The compiler there has hijacked traffic that could have inured to the creator of the linked post -- and has potentially earned income in the process. Is that really a fair use of the original work? (I'd be inclined to think not.)

If this is not something you've been following, or thinking about, I've thrown a great deal at you this morning (at least you'll enjoy the well-written Popehat links) -- but it occurs to me that those of us who use this medium have a pretty strong interest in trying to keep it open, accessible -- and civil -- and we should be leading the debate in the real world about how best to tame the Internet beast, rather than reacting (usually in horror) to attempts to impose controls on the free flow of information here in the ether.

Have a Glorious Fourth.


Anonymous said...

I sort of have a personal experience with this. It was a couple years ago when I actually had a blog and blogged daily. One such post was a personal story of my battle with invasive cancer. About a year later I came across my post word for word on a popular medical website. Now they did link back to my original post but it was a useless link because they had posted my entire story on their very popular site. There was no need for anyone to hit that link! They had never contacted me or anything. I didn't know rather to be angry at them for doing it, or to be proud that it was well written enough for them to want to do it??? I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I never said anything one way or another but it did help make up my mind to stop blogging.

I think using links is perfectly fine and I really don't see anything wrong with picking out a few short excerpts but for the WHOLE story one should have to link over to the original author.

The Curmudgeon said...

I can understand your ambivalence -- whether to be proud that your post was deemed worth stealing by the "popular medical website" or angry that your work product was stolen. I think I'd be both... and I think, reading your comment again, that was your reaction, too.

It really was rather a stinking thing for a "popular medical website" to do. I'll bet if they'd contact you first, and asked your permission to reprint it in full, you might have gladly consented. (I think I would have -- and then I would have boasted about it on my blog, too.)

Thank you for your thoughtful observation.

Patti said...

I think that they should have not only contacted anonymous for his permission but also should have offered him some compensation for his work.

Stealing is stealing.

These days at the newspaper now we are all about linking.

Hope your Fourth was fun!