A blogging dilemma

A quick post here about a blogging dilemma.

We’ve run a story today about the chair of the police federation saying PCSOs should be scrapped or reduced so the money can be spent on more frontline officers. He calls them a failed experiment.

Then I spotted a tweet from someone we follow with the paper’s account, expressing disappointment that his local paper had done down his job.

I responded, to ask what had upset him. He replied, to say a lazy story about PCSOs didn’t help those who were PCSOs. He then tweeted a link to his blog, asking people who follow him to read it.

So I read the blog, and it’s a very good. I thought he made some excellent points, so I retweeted and suggested to the editor that we linked to it. But before I linked to it, I used the paper’s twitter to check he was okay with that.

He said no thanks, he didn’t want to get in trouble. He’s not taking the blog down, and he was happy with the retweet, but he didn’t want a link.

I then asked him how he’d feel if we quoted it anonymously, but by then he’d gone to work and has not, as yet, replied.

Now the newshound in me thinks this could be a great follow up to our splash. So I asked the Twitterverse for their opinions.

Here’s a selection of replies.

blogg
You’ll see they’re quite varied. Which made me think.

Do you need permission to link to content freely available on the web?

I assume, when I blog, that I have no control over where links to that content ends up, just like I have no control over things I’ve posted publicly on Twitter (a painful lesson I learned courtesy of Press Gazette but that a whole different post). I assume copyright to the extent that I want to be acknowledged as the author of my work, I expect a link if something of mine is used and I expect people not to pretend its their own or make money out of it, but that’s it.

So having blogged this, then tweeted it, made it publicly available and invited people to read it, does he still have the right to ask us not to use it? In other words, if we haven’t asked him, would we have been doing anything wrong in linking to it?

And if you decide not to link because you’re trying not to get someone in trouble, in a case where crediting or attributing will identify them, is quoting their content anonymously better or worse?

I realise that to many people the simple answer would be don’t use it. To many journalists the answer would be ‘he’s made it public, therefore you can use it.’ I think if he explicitly says no to us using it in any form, then we won’t.

But it made me think hard about the whole concept of copyright and permissions when it comes to blogs. And I’m still not sure what the answer is.

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7 thoughts on “A blogging dilemma

  1. Tony Veitch says:

    Points:

    He has permitted use which normally will include linking.

    He is at liberty to withdraw that permission.

    That action will not recall information already public.

    In this case he has probably not thought through the full possible implications of his actions if I understand rightly.

    The dilemma exists because of point above.

    We are, of course, now drawing further attention this.

    I think the most ethical approach is to discuss it with him.

    It’s still early days!

  2. Adrian Short says:

    Copyright is copyright whether it’s on Twitter, on a blog or anywhere else. Copyright vests in the author unless there’s a contract to the contrary and you may only use the author’s copyright work under fair dealing terms in the UK unless you have explicit permission/licence otherwise.

    But linking is a whole different thing. There are no legal limitations on linking to anything and I very much doubt terms of service on a particular website saying that you can’t link to their content (in a particular way) are enforceable. Such terms certainly wouldn’t bind someone else copying a link from someone else who hadn’t visited the site and “accepted” those terms, however implicitly.

    I’m not a lawyer and I’m certainly not your lawyer, but I suspect this whole matter is within the scope of consideration for others rather than legal rights.

    My view is that if you write a public blog using your real name you’re pretty much explicitly welcoming as much publicity as possible. Why not stay pseudonymous otherwise?

  3. Tony Veitch says:

    I did mean early days in social media and its ethics and mores.

  4. Dilyan says:

    I agree with Adrian that even if someone says you can’t link to their content, they can’t enforce that.

    Also, I think the whole “I don’t want to get into trouble” thing is flawed — he’s putting it out on the internet, on a blog that has his name and picture and is being indexed by Google: how much more public can it get? (Incidentally, that makes quoting him as an anonymous source a bit impossible.)

    But: @Bournemouthecho is an account you are using to engage with your newspaper’s community. Doing something against the explicit wish of a member of that community is not engaging in the right way. I’d say that even if he has no legal right, he has the moral right that his wishes be respected; hence don’t link to his blog post and don’t quote him anonymously. You’ve retweeted his link and this is as good a channel to pass on the news as your website or hard copy. Your journalistic job is done.

  5. Andy says:

    It’s a tricky one. I think that Dilyans point about ‘how’ you engage with the community is the salient one here. If you ask and he says no then I would go with that.

    You’ve kind of ’empty chaired’ him by making it available to everyone, making the issue moot. Better in that sense not to have asked. If the blog is public and he doesn’t block your ip etc then I think it is fair comment to report (and link) on. He can choose to remove at any point.

    It’s interesting to wonder if fair dealing covers the content or the link to the content and, maybe more interesting, is the idea why he feels that twitter is okay but not a link.

    Perhaps he thinks that the blog with a link is too mainstream for his employers and that twitter is below the radar.

  6. Sam Shepherd says:

    Thanks everyone!

    I have to say that I know the ‘right answer’ in this case is not to use it – because I asked, and he asked us not to, and as Dilyan points out, it wouldn’t be great for our community engagement if we then went ahead anyway.

    But I do think it raises the spectre of a blog’s audience and how you can’t really control who sees it or quotes from it. I think we tend to assume that our content is published only to our relative audiences, and forget that it doesn’t take much for it to spread beyond our controled/trusted circle.

    In fact, Andy’s right – I’ve done just that and empty-chaired the Twitterer in question, assuming he’ll never see this post. (I’ve removed the references now, for that reason). But he might well, and I wouldn’t be able to control that any more than he can stop people looking at his blog…

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