Something’s been bugging me a lot lately: I’ve been thinking about “indirect objects,” retweets, and reposts. Huh? Indirect objects? You know, indirect objects from 10th grade English grammar class. They are the “to whom or for who the action is being done.” They usually come at the end of a sentence. It’s usually how you can tell whether you’re supposed to use the word who or whom. And what do they have to do with retweets and reposts? Here it is: When someone retweets or reposts a whole post, a massive chunk of a post, or even writes two lines to preface a video, is that ethical? To whom or for whom will others attribute the ideas? Are they in some way attempting to leverage someone else’s knowledge and works for their own acclaim or profit or notoriety? Let me give you a few examples of things that have begun to bother me.
Probably eight to ten months ago, I received an email for an RSS feed from a Diigo group that I subscribe to. In the email digest, someone had bookmarked and annotated a blog post of which a portion of the blog post was some text I had written. (Admittedly, this sort of thing where someone actually reads and bookmarks something of mine everyday, so I happen to notice that the text sounded rather familiar.) In the annotation, the individual attributed the ideas and point of view to the blog owner instead of to me. Yes, I had given the blog owner permission to use the text, and he had used my name in the attribution to the post. But the individual who bookmarked it, did not really see the idea as mine.
Also, I read RSS feeds from a lot of places. In a couple of feeds, I’ve read notes from a presentation. Someone sitting in the audience is taking notes and then publishes the notes on his or her blog…usually along with the link to the presentation. If it were my presentation, I’m sure I’d be flattered that someone wanted to publish my ideas. But here’s where I start to question it. If they are more well known than I am, have a larger Twitter following, or more subscribers to their blog, then they will receive the hits and acclaim for my ideas through their publishing outlet. Did I as the presenter just lose some control of my ideas? By allowing someone else to publish (or even republish) my ideas, did I just give away a portion of my ownership — or even copyrights?
So, my question is, at what point do you lose control of your ideas when they are so easily published and republishable by others? Coming from publishing background, I certainly understand that ideas can be usurped by anyone. For an intense example, consider the swastika. I also certainly understand that those individuals with an audience are the ones able to promote ideas. This have been going on forever with magazines and TV. But in this “age” or citizen journalism, where anyone should be able to promote their ideas, and “the flat world,” where playing fields have supposedly been leveled, are ideas and knowledge just easier to be misrepresented?
I’m not even talking about embed codes here. I understand that social media have changed the way we view marketing and celebrity. Retweets, Delicious, Digg, authority on Technorati—sure these represent new methods to determine authority, value, and credibility. But what I’m wondering is much more basic and personal. What are the ethics or netiqette to re-publishing or mashing up others’ ideas? This is more than just attribution. Copyright and fair use really doesn’t seem to cover this. What do you think?
[In an effort of full disclosure, image courtesy of Pasquale D’Silva and Function Web Design & Development .]