Ownership Doesn't Make Sense In Communications

from the you-don't-own-your-conversation dept

Earlier this week, we explained the root cause of many of the problems the entertainment industry runs into when it tries to deal with copyright online. It views the internet in the same way that it views a broadcast media content platform, when it's been designed and used primarily as a communications platform. The entire concept of copyright doesn't make sense in the realm of regular communications. You don't worry who owns the copyright on the conversation you have on the phone or the email that you write to a friend. Yet, when viewed through the prism of a "content" platform, these are open questions. The same is true of things like blog comments. Yet, suddenly we find people arguing over who "owns" comments place on a blog page.

Mathew Ingram does a nice job highlighting the key issues that were raised this week on that question, but the whole conversation took a turn for the bizarre when Hank Williams weighed in. This is the same Hank Williams who posted a poorly researched defense of copyright. Now he's back claiming that the issue of who owns the copyright on blog comments is a really important question. If anything, you would think that the points he raises in his post would actually be the perfect evidence for why his original post was wrong (though he seems to miss that). It's quite clear from what he wrote that copyright law doesn't handle this situation very well -- which makes sense, because copyright is (again) designed for broadcast media, not communications. But rather than realize that's a good reason why copyright shouldn't apply at all here, Williams doubles down on why "ownership" over comments is something that needs to be worked out -- he suggests that blog and comment system providers create a totally useless mechanism to "declare" ownership of comments.

Except that this system is not at all necessary, and would only lead to more problems. The entire purpose of copyright is to act as incentive for the creation of that content. Yet, I think most people would find it preposterous to claim that the reason they commented on a blog was because of the protections provided by copyright. In other words, there's no question to worry about here because this content was all created without copyright being the incentive. However, in this bizarre and twisted world where infinitely available resources need to be shrunk down and "owned," Williams insists that we need to figure out who has the copyright on comments.

In the comments to Hank's own story, things get even more bizarre. First, Hank suggests that if the blog owner "owned" the comments then that might mean that the blog owner also "owned" the liability associated with those comments (which could mean in cases of libel or copyright infringement). Once again, though, Williams is showing his ignorance, as both cases are clearly covered by the safe harbors of the CDA and the DMCA, and the stacks upon stacks of case law concerning liability on things like blog comments. It's quite clear that Williams thinks ownership of infinite resources is a good idea -- but he doesn't appear to have thought through what that means and why it's neither necessary nor a good idea. Too bad.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 30th, 2008 @ 6:40pm

    blog -r

    Wow, talk about a recursive function.
    I think it will eventually implode upon itself.

     

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    nevyn, May 30th, 2008 @ 6:48pm

    So does that mean you do own this comment, or you don't? I give up, its yours if you want it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 30th, 2008 @ 6:48pm

    "It's quite clear that Williams thinks ownership of infinite resources is a good idea -- but he doesn't appear to have thought through what that means and why it's neither necessary nor a good idea. Too bad."

    I'd say he thought it through pretty damn well, especially if he's the one who gets to license "a totally useless mechanism to "declare" ownership of comments." Like everything else in the world today, the implementation of anything that generates revenue will be seen where the environment allows for it, so long as the people who wish to see it enacted have a louder voice than those who do not. If this guy can get enough execs and other morons who actualy run things to jump on board with him, he can potentially make a crap load of money.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 30th, 2008 @ 6:53pm

    So ... for example ... if I were to type LOL in a blog and someone else then becomes the owner of that comment, I would be guilty of copyright infringement if I were to again use that same LOL elsewhere ?????

     

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    Noah Callaway (profile), May 30th, 2008 @ 7:01pm

    First Copyright Inspired Comment!

    I'm posting this comment solely because of the copyright provisions granted to me by the federal government. Copying of this comment is prohibited without the express written my express written consent.

    Thinking, using, or expressing any letters, words, or ideas contained herein is expressly forbidden. For good measure the idea of posting a comment expressly for the protections granted by copyright has been patented. So don't try this at home.

     

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      some old guy, May 30th, 2008 @ 7:53pm

      Re: First Copyright Inspired Comment!

      Fair Use Quote:
      Thinking ... is expressly ... posting ... protections ... at home.

      I would have copied the entire text, but thats not allowed. I had to use a shorter quotation.

       

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    danny, May 30th, 2008 @ 8:57pm

    I wonder how Williams plans to deal with wiki page copyright?

     

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    steveballmer, May 30th, 2008 @ 10:36pm

    Not to poor people

    It makes plenty of sense if you own the media consortium!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 31st, 2008 @ 7:08am

    Cheap Shot

    A guy makes comments on a personal blog
    You disagree and think he is being silly
    This makes him fair game for ridicule?

     

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      Hulser, May 31st, 2008 @ 9:58am

      Re: Cheap Shot

      >A guy makes comments on a personal blog
      >You disagree and think he is being silly
      >This makes him fair game for ridicule?

      It makes him fair game for criticism, which is what's contained in Mike's post. You seem to be implying otherwise, but free expression and critical analysis are good things. If this guy didn't want his ideas to be criticized, 1) he shouldn't have posted them to the public forum of the Internet and 2) not on a blog with comments!

      Also, there's a big distinction between ridicule and criticism. Mike didn't make fun of Mr. Williams on a personal basis. He pointed out the flaws in his arguments. What about that was "cheap"?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, May 31st, 2008 @ 10:35am

        Re: Re: Cheap Shot

        In which case he should have made his comments on the blog itself, and not start something over here that the blogger may never even learn about.

         

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      Melvillain, May 31st, 2008 @ 12:29pm

      Re: Cheap Shot

      @9 says
      "A guy makes comments on a personal blog
      You disagree and think he is being silly
      This makes him fair game for ridicule?"

      It does make him fair game for "ridicule" because his blog posts are being posted on Silicon Alley Insider. I am a recent reader of SAI, and even though some of their content is beyond me, I enjoy their point of view on what's going on in the tech world. I have now read two posts by Hank Williams that are little more than half-baked thoughts. That's fine for a personal blog, but SAI's blog seems to be more about business and less about random personal thoughts. If Hank Williams wants to post half-baked ideas on his personal blog more power to him, but as soon as an entity like SAI starts to post his personal posts with no comment of their own, then yes, he has opened himself up to "ridicule". I don't believe Techdirt's article is ridicule, but it points out that Hank Williams ideas don't seem to be well formed or thought out.

       

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    John Wilson, May 31st, 2008 @ 7:57am

    I kinda thought this might come up.

    Which is why it's clearly stated on the forums for the church site I own that commenting there does, in fact, transfer any copyright claim to the site and it's owners and then places them under a Creative Comments license.

    There are just too many folks like Hank Williams and Robert Scoble about who seem to be in love with their one off comments to do anything else.

    Now, to add to my "to do" list a similar rule on my own blog.

    Sheesh!

    ttfn

    John

     

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    Jesse McNelis, May 31st, 2008 @ 10:28am

    copyright is also about control of content that you have created.
    Suppose I make a comment on your blog and later feel that the comment was not well thought out and doesn't really represent how I view a subject.
    Having copyright over this content I created I can have the comment removed, if the blog owner owned the content then they could decide that they didn't want me to remove it.
    Either way it has to be decided who owns the content.

     

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      Mike (profile), May 31st, 2008 @ 3:39pm

      Re:

      copyright is also about control of content that you have created.

      No. No it's not. Copyright is about incentive, not control.

       

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        Another Mike, Aug 9th, 2008 @ 9:22am

        Re: Re:

        Creative control is one outcome of the copyright law. There are plenty of examples of the creators of things using this control to prevent others from making crap out of their work. The world is a richer place for it.

        E.B.White excercized control over his Charlotte's web to avoid a movie version in which Charlotte doesn't die.

        After a couple of early TV fiasco's, Theodor Geisel excercised much tighter control over his work. His creative control allowed for the creation of the hugely popular T.V. special of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. If, after his death, his estate had maintained tighter control, we'd have been been spared a number of truely awful movies and the equally awful trailers that go with them.

        Congress may have needed incentive and the commerce clause of the constituion in order to create Federal copyright law but that is not the only reason for keeping the law around.

         

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    Mustafa, May 31st, 2008 @ 10:53pm

    Get over yourself sunshine

    Even if you don't agree with what he has to say, Hank Williams mostly makes his case in calm and rational manner. On the other hand, you don't present a coherent case, seem more interested in belittling others and pumping yourself up like an angry bullfrog.

    I'm not as polite as Hank so I'll merely say that I personally don't think Techdirt has a clue about copyright, business or the real world for that matter, but I do admit it is very amusing to read on occassion.

    Good luck to the people relying on this site in making critical business decisions.

     

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      Mike (profile), Jun 1st, 2008 @ 1:21am

      Re: Get over yourself sunshine

      Even if you don't agree with what he has to say, Hank Williams mostly makes his case in calm and rational manner. On the other hand, you don't present a coherent case, seem more interested in belittling others and pumping yourself up like an angry bullfrog.

      I'm sorry you feel that way. I wasn't angry when I wrote it, and I tried to present a clear and compelling case. Obviously, for you, it failed. However, rather than insulting me, why don't you explain why my argument isn't convincing?

      I laid out a pretty clear argument, showing why copyright normally does not make sense for communication. Which part of that did you not find convincing?

      I'm not as polite as Hank so I'll merely say that I personally don't think Techdirt has a clue about copyright, business or the real world for that matter

      Fair enough. You don't have to think we have a clue, but you should at least explain why you think we're wrong.

      And, if it's true that we really don't have a clue about copyright, business or the real world, don't you think we'd have gone out of business by now? Clearly we're doing something right.

      Good luck to the people relying on this site in making critical business decisions.

      They don't need luck for the most part, because they have a pretty sound business strategy, backed by both theory and evidence, and it seems to be working for them.

       

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    zcat, May 31st, 2008 @ 11:38pm

    #16

    Control can be an incentive too; Eg the GPL uses copyright not to generate revenue or prevent distribution, but to maintain control over how it gets distributed. RMS would never have started GNU if it was going to be just another BSD.

     

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      mobiGeek, Jun 2nd, 2008 @ 8:08am

      Re: #16

      Yes, the GPL uses copyright, but it does so in order to prevent the system of copyright from going the other way (i.e. someone putting the developed works (code) under their own copyright and keeping it away from end-users). Fighting fire with fire and all that.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    jeff paul internet business, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 8:49pm

    Your post has on internet marketing is definitely true. Internet marketing has opened new ways of attracting visitors to the website giving the webmasters a way of earning cash as well as web status. Let's see what the future holds for internet marketing.

     

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