Friday, May 30, 2008

Who Owns Your Comments?

A fascinating discussion is taking place in cyberspace today on who owns the copyrights to comments left on blogs. This is an issue that's more complicated than it may appear at first glance, and strikes directly at the heart of defining "ownership" in the digital world.

Hank Williams' blog explains some recent events. An individual named Robert Scoble posted comments on a blog by Rob La Gesse. Posting such comments happens all the time, however...

"The problem is that Scoble commented using Friendfeed instead of the standard blog comments. La Gesse and Scoble had a discussion where Scoble wanted him to move the discussion to Friendfeed. La Gesse did not want to do that, and at some point deleted his feeds from Friendfeed. This prevented the discussions about his blog from happening on Friendfeed. Unfortunately, as Mathew Ingram explains, this had the effect of deleting from public view Scoble's comments on LaGesse's blog. Scoble was upset that his comments had been deleted because he feels like he owns his comments."

So the question is, when you leave comments on a blog (or Craigslist, Amazon, or any website, for that matter) who owns the copyrights to your comments?

There's a natural inclination to assume that when you make a post onto someone else's website that you are forgoing any rights to your post. After all, you are contributing to someone else's site. Website owners certainly retain the right to remove or moderate any comments left on their pages.

But does that mean they also have the right to, say, re-publish your comment wherever they want, however many times they want?

This issue is further complicated by new syndication services, like Friendfeed and Disqus, which catalog and re-publish all of the comments that you post around the entire internet.

In other words, when someone like Robert Scoble leaves a comment, a copyright claim can legitimately be made 1) by Rob La Gesse's blog on which the comment is posted, 2) by Friendfeed, which publishes all of Scoble's internet comments, and 3) by Scoble himself, in his capacity as the actual author of the comment.

This may seem overly legalistic, however the way in which it gets resolved will have tremendous consequences. Read the comments left on this ReadWriteWeb page and it becomes clear how the discussion (in the form of comments) is often more valuable than the blog post itself. That being the case, an open and participatory internet cannot be maintained if each online discussion has dozens of rightful copyright owners.


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