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.

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  1. identicon
    zcat, 31 May 2008 @ 11:38pm


    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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