Monday, May 19, 2008

Paranoia unintended, but a bit worrying

I'm not intending to induce paranoia in anyone with a blog, but do you ever think about what it might mean for you personally if your blog content surreptitiously ended up elsewhere, without your permission? Or was used in a way you never intended it to be when you posted it?

There is an interesting post on Zinnia Cyclamen's blog about the problems a number of UK bloggers have had recently with national newspapers publishing their work. She draws attention to several cases. Rachel of North London reports how the Daily Mail misrepresented a blogger by publishing part of a blog post to illustrate an article about women using blogs to take "E-venge" on ex-partners, without her permission. Apart from printing 26 inaccuracies, the paper took the work they published completely out of context by using part of one post the blogger had written, ignoring four years worth of other blogposts, thus effectively portraying her unfairly as a "cyber-bunny boiler". Worrying if you're not an anonymous blogger and an occasional rant ends up in a national paper, only finding out when your neighbour tells you he's read it.

On the Guardian website, Zoe Margolis (of Girl with a One Track Mind blog) discusses the problems of copyright emerging from a a recent case where The Mail on Sunday printed whole posts from one blog, without critical comment from the paper or as part of a review, with no permission sought and no fee offered to the blogger, due to the assumption that bloggers are "amateur writers" and the blog was "in the public domain." The invention of the blog must have been a wonderful event for lazy journalists.

I find this a bit problematic, as I'm supposed to be persuading students to start blogs about their research. It is difficult to be enthusiastic when you know there are various pitfalls to negotiate first - try to be interesting and actually enjoy doing it, but don't reveal stuff that you might regret at a later date; use it to help create a web profile to make your work known, but at the same time, protect your intellectual property by keeping your core ideas to yourself in case someone pinches them. Difficult to get a balance between just being a noticeboard and doing something a bit more interesting or creative with it. And avoiding full-blown paranoia too!

Depends partly on their work - whether it is text-based (writing), digital arts or traditional 3D media, and the stage the work has reached. Ok to put a jpg of your completed large stone sculpture on your blog, but not very sensible to work through your intellectual ideas for a written thesis as work in progress.

A colleague remarked once that ideas are your currency in Higher Education in today's competitive, research-orientated market, so be careful what you do with them. Copyright issues aside, if newspapers start publishing parts of people's blogs out of context, it can only restrict even further what people choose to write and how they use their blogs in the future. A bit depressing really.

(And I've just realised that I really dislike the term 'blogger'. I don't know what the difference is between being a person who happens to have a blog, and being a 'blogger', but it matters, for some reason.)


SandDancer said...

An interesting post.

I think it was a shocking thing for the Mail to do, but I'm not that surprised by their response. It seems that many "traditional" journalists feel threatened by the rise of the blog. I was reading an article recently about the effect the internet has had on film reviewers as apparently people now prefer to go to sites where they can get multiple opinions and so many newspapers (in the USA mainly I think) are cutting back on their reviewers.

Claire said...

I can understand that. Specialist blogs frequently seem more interesting and insightful than articles published in traditional media by established journalists.

I wonder what the longer-term economic impact on writing as a career might be? Or maybe writing for the internet is already incorporated into journalism courses. It's an interesting area.