Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Bloggy copyright

While I'm already talking about blog culture, I feel like I should say something about this odd little mention I got in the Toronto Sun last Friday. The whole piece is essentially a reprint of my "Who's Canadian enough, take two" post with a few cosmetic changes, but if a fellow blogger hadn't pointed it out, I'd never have even known about it, as there was no direct link.

Caught between feeling flattered and feeling a little weirded out that they used so many of my words without asking permission or even letting me know, I turned to my friends for their opinions. Some of them said that the Sun was justified under "fair use," especially since I'd clearly written the post to be disseminated. Others, though, said I should be annoyed, and that I'd
even have grounds for a lawsuit.

Now, I have no interest in suing a major newspaper over something that was clearly well-intentioned, so that's right out. What I did take away from the experience, though, is that if I ever feel like taking an article from the Toronto Sun, removing a few sentences here and there, changing a couple of the words and the title, and republishing it in my blog, I should feel entirely justified in doing so. :-)


Dave T. said...

Demand payment for your work. It worked for

Suzanne said...

Myself, I'd get a lawyer. If they took your words, they were stolen. Just because it was meant to be widely disseminated doesn't mean you don't own the copyright. If they didn't attribute the words to you, that's plagiarism.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Eh, I don't care enough about it to do more than write a snarky post about it. Besides, I'm actually not sure they did anything wrong. It was nice of them to send some traffic my way, after all, and I'm not getting paid for this one way or the other. It made me feel kind of weird, but I don't bear them any ill will.


Actually, they did attribute the words to me; they just didn't link. Which, to be fair, is a courtesy that's commonplace among blogs but rarer in online newspapers. A clash of cultures, if you will.

Rob Cottingham said...

First, you'd need a lawyer to tell you whether the Sun's extended reprinting constitutes fair use. And there's nothing stopping you from writing to demand payment... except the knowledge that they'd probably think twice before ever quoting you again.

But since your goal is to have your views exposed to a broad audience, and since Sun readers are badly in need of a more diverse range of opinions, what would you think of taking a more positive route?

I'd be tempted to send them a nice note, thanking them for reprinting your post and for including your web address. And then I'd mention that you'd appreciate it if, the next time you wrote something they thought was suitable for quoting in their best-of-the-blogs section, they would be kind enough to link the web address so it would be clickable. It wouldn't be much extra trouble for them, and it would mean their online readers could see the full context of your comments.

Yeah, you're giving a for-profit endeavour some free content, and only you can decide how comfortable you are with that. It was a remarkably long "excerpt", and if you wanted to make an issue of it, I'm guessing you could have a case. Some kind of a prior-permission system to indicate whether our blog posts are fair game for media outlets to reprint -- a kind of media-oriented Creative Commons -- could help to defuse any conflicts like these before they get started.

Meanwhile, congratulations on the nod from the Sun. Not everyone there is on the far right, and you wrote an especially astute post -- I'm glad they picked it up.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Actually, I suppose on some level I'm hoping that the Sun employee who found my original post will also read this one, and realize that I had mixed feelings about the decisions the paper made. Anything beyond that, from a letter to a lawsuit, could end up getting the "Best of the Blogs" feature canned, and that would be a shame.

The real problem, like I said in one of the previous comments, is a clash of "cultures." If they'd quoted less of my content or summarized, and provided a direct link, I would have just been pleased. My suspicion is that these things wouldn't have even occurred to The Powers That Be at the Sun, though, and I can easily understand how a newspaper would view these things differently.

Dave T. said...

There's no such term as "fair use" in Canada; it's called "fair dealing," and quoting almost the entire piece with very minor changes is hardly "fair dealing."

Why should the writer of this blog allow the Sun to profit from words they didn't write? This is a pretty blatant case of copyright infringement.

Some kind of a prior-permission system to indicate whether our blog posts are fair game for media outlets to reprint -- a kind of media-oriented Creative Commons -- could help to defuse any conflicts like these before they get started.

There is such a system - it's called the Copyright Act, and under it one doesn't copy someone else's writing without permission.

Dr.Dawg said...

My apologies for the deleted posts--too many typos.

I would contact the reporter, and if no go, the editor. I will tell you from experience that this is virtually a firing offence.

Several years back, when I was a rep for a national union, I wrote a regular column for the union newsletter. One day, heading to work, I chanced upon a column by a local commentator in the Ottawa Citizen. This seems familar, I thought--and realized that it was a column I myself had researched and written not long before.

I called up someone to complain--I can't remember who it was. The columnist phoned me up half an hour later nearly in tears, asking why I hadn't called him first. The next day an apology was printed--the story was that he had dumped the article into his computer to use as reference material, and it had accidentally been emitted as a column--a tale that strikes me today as even less likely than I thought at the time. It even had grammatical changes in it. The man did, however, have a serious drinking problem.

I seem to lack the killer instinct on rare occasions, and did no more after the apology was printed. Years afterwards he delighted in taking a pot-shot or two at me when I was elected to full-time union office...

Dick Beddoes lifted a paragraph or two from a gay rights pamphlet several years back and it cost him his job at the Globe and Mail.

I say: complain. You did get published credit, which is OK, but taking your words holus-bolus is not. Plagiarism is one of the great no-noes of journalism--when you're caught. And this person clearly has been.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Dr. Dawg,

Like I said, I'm not inclined to be the meanie on this one because I think they were actually trying to give good blogging some recognition. The words were attributed, and they even printed my URL (without a direct link). The way it ended up is certainly kind of iffy, and sure, it would have been nice if they'd at least given me a heads-up, but I wouldn't want to get anyone in trouble, or risk the editors deciding that it's easier not to bother with the "Best of the Blogs" feature anymore.

Dr.Dawg said...

Ahh, you're an old softie. I'm still kicking myself for not pushing to get Frank Howard booted, that old anti-union reprobate, but his tears moved even a tough old union soldier like me. Just to say I don't blame you...that much. :)

Dr.Dawg said...

Did I really use the word "old" three times? :)

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Dr. Dawg,

Yep. Can't challenge you one a one, though. :-)

KevinG said...


Cool! Congratulations ... I guess :)

It seems to me like it's a paper equivalent of link but without the url. The article is clearly attributed to you and your blog.

I guess the question boils down to whether one thinks it's appropriate for a newspaper to act like a blog or whether there is some higher standard for non-blogs for this type of thing.

If they'd stopped you on the street and you'd have been able to articulate those same points ( which of course you wouldn't because you spend some time crafting the words and presenting the ideas ) would you feel the same weirdness? Would they require your permission ( I don't know either )?

If it was a web site run by, say, the Lebanese-Canadian Benevolent Society ( to use a fictitious example ) would it be OK then? Would the expectations be different?

It's an interesting question scenario.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Ooh, good questions. If it had been a matter of stopping me on the street and quoting what I said, I wouldn't have objected at all. I'm not very eloquent in person, and if anything, their deletions would probably make me sound better, not worse! And if it had been Random Nonprofit Website quoting my post, it wouldn't have been as big a deal, I think. Possibly because Random Nonprofit Website doesn't usually pay people for the kind of thing they got from me for free. But you do have a point.

I take exception to one thing, though: if they had, in fact, been "acting like a blog," then they would have linked, dammit! :-)

Rob Cottingham said...

dave t., thanks for catching my slip o' the keyboard... I've been reading too much Lessig and not enough Geist these days. My old journalism law prof would kick me for that. (Interestingly enough, he turned up in a Sean Holman article not long ago... But I Digress.)

Still, even though Canada's fair dealing approach is more restrictive than the U.S. fair use model, it's not like you walk up to the Sun's Instant Payments For Aggrieved Bloggers desk and collect your cheque. The National Post's misuse of the Spacing article left a misleading impression that Spacing had given its blessing (and the Post's apology puts its emphasis on that point); the context in the Sun is a lot more suggestive of a sampling of what's out there in the blogging world.

Anyway, I should probably have mustered at least a little more snark over this. IP's right: a much better approach for the Sun would be brief excerpts and a link to the full piece, unless the paper wanted to approach individual bloggers and get permission (and, in the name of fairness for freelancers everywhere, fork over some money).