BitDepth 788 - June 28

Content sharing and attribution remain one of the most confusing issues for creators active on the Internet.
Whose content is it, anyway?
Tineye offers a content identification service for the web for photographers looking for unauthorised use of their images. Copyspace, often used to spot plagiarism, is a well regarded resource for text searches.

About halfway through a spirited Facebook discussion about content sharing, I realised two things, one was that the chat was proceeding from entirely different perspectives, and the other was that I was drinking an awful lot of tea for someone else’s fever, since the content that was being shared wasn’t mine.

The discussion was about a reposting of Paolo Kernahan’s entire column from that week’s Guardian with a link to the source.
I’d objected in principle, but I didn’t do a particularly good job of explaining why I thought that an excerpt from the piece and a link might serve the author better.

Reproducing the entire article constituted a kind of republishing, albeit on a rather small scale and for a relatively limited audience, while an excerpt and a link back to the source material was a more valuable resource for the content creator.

There’s a fundamental difference between the two approaches for the author of the work, particularly if they also hold the copyright to it and post to their own website, while the difference is negligible to the person doing the posting, who is generally keen on sharing with as little fuss as possible.

The difference between the two becomes more pronounced when it comes to photographs, which can’t be excerpted. The way the image is shared can make a critical difference in an environment of shared content.
I post a lot of photographs as well as writing to the web, so it’s important to me that photos have a link back to their source, where I have some control over the presentation of the images and their context. It’s also critical that watermarks, often the only clear indication of authorship for most users, aren’t cropped out or otherwise obscured.

In an intriguing and somewhat ironic reversal of the normal flow of information on the web, an Express report made liberal use of Facebook comments from one user’s page. That Facebook user, known to be an activist for commonsense, humanitarian issues, posted a link to the paper’s story on the Sasha Mohammed issue. The paper’s reporter, a colleague of mine, harvested some of the comments for his story and promptly reaped the scorn of those quoted, their friends and a whole bunch of folks on Twitter.

At stake, if I read the social media outcry from that incident correctly, is the fuzzy difference between a private comment and a public one on a network built on public access, complex privacy controls and a social experience.

Facebook actually spells this out in their terms of use, “You understand that information might be reshared or copied by other users.”
There are a lot of traditional fences that get crossed in digital media and the trampling across perceived boundaries is likely to become more heated before accepted protocols become general knowledge.

I can’t speak for anyone else, despite the many words I expended on Paolo’s story, but I do think there are some things that should be part of the normal expectations of web consumers and contributors.
If you take material from a website, ask first. If you don’t ask, give clear credit and links back to the source material. Quote from text to make your point, but avoid wholesale replication of entire stories, most creators think of that as hijacking their material, or scraping.

“I found your picture on Google” isn’t an excuse. Images on Google tell you exactly where the image came from and normally advise on copyright status. Ask permission, link back to the source and give credit where it’s due.
If the social Internet is a cocktail party, don’t be the guest trying to buss the bar while stuffing finger food into your pockets.
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