The blogosphere’s copyright secret

Last week, a group of us known as the Media Bloggers Association — along with Zubr Communications from Philly — attempted to put together a piece of technology that would help bloggers with bandwidth costs for tsunami videos. As I wrote last week, one fellow’s ISP shocked him with a bill for $1,000 when people actually came to his site to view the videos. We thought helping people like this was a good idea — and we still do — but the plan involved a multitude of bloggers letting us use their unused bandwidth, and human nature apparently reared its ugly head, so now we’re looking at ways to handle such things in the future.

Along the way, however, one of the great secrets of the blogosphere was revealed — one that’s going to cause some lawsuits downstream. Bloggers, in general, have little respect for copyright laws and tend to snatch and grab anything out there as “theirs.” One blogger who was involved in this had possession of 12 videos that he was making available on his site. He didn’t have rights to any of them.

This is a big difference between the blogosphere and the mainstream, and it’s one that’s going to bite us in the ass unless we do something about it.

Personally, I think we need to look at rewriting copyright laws, because once one of these things is posted on the Web, it becomes a free-for-all in terms of swiping and using. The same thing applies to photographs and graphics (full disclosure: I’ve been guilty of this).

The blogosphere has yet to come in contact with our (not so)friendly legal community, but that’s coming. This would be a good time for everybody to take a serious look at what can and can’t be done in the blogosphere from a legal perspective. Perhaps the MBA or the EFF could create guidelines to help self-governance of the blogosphere. I hate to think of what could happen otherwise.


  1. A significant part of this could be alleviated through wider and more granular support of creative commons. I regularly use copyrighted images on my blog, hosting locally. I would make a strong case for fair use in each case, but I also did this precisely because I expect the © owners would prefer that I do this, rather than unnecessarily tax their servers.

  2. I agree with you, Alex, and I think the time to work towards this is now.

  3. The lawyers are here today. Check out what happened to Jason Kottke:

  4. Having run various personal web sites for a number of years I have always been sensitive to the issue of copyrighted material. My rule is to simply not use it if I have any question. If material is questionable, I link to it. Inserting an image which loads from the parent site still puts the content on your page. For larger media outlets, (Newsday, NYT) they are not amused. I do pull quotes under the idea of fair use, but if I know a site has a history of being touchy I just link to it.

    It’s true that linking will increase the other guy’s bandwidth, but isn’t that why he posted it??

  5. The problem is that us in traditional media have been educated on issues of copyright, fair use, etc. The average blogger us no idea about these laws, or what the consequences are (I am not even clear on what the consequences of using copyrighted material are). The best thing would be for associations like the Media Bloggers Association to publish educational material on legal issues, and it might even be worth while to have a FAQ page written by a lawyer to which bloggers could periodically submit questions. Also, if there are bloggers that haven’t done so already, they should read Lawrence Lessig’s “Free Culture,” which presents very compelling arguments as to why we need to revise our current intellectual property laws.

  6. I don’t understand why copyright laws need to be entirely rewritten because we want to post things on the web. When someone posts work that they didn’t create as their own, shouldn’t the creator have some recourse? It seems to me that, as long as I am providing proper credit and provenance and not profiting, posting someone else’s work on my server so that it is available when my reference to it is available, rather than available only when the other guy’s server is up, is an extension of fair use. I don’t think the fact that some bloggers are unethical makes copyright the problem.

  7. Stanford University’s discussion on Website Permissions applies to bloggers as much as it does to corporate web owners.

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