On Wednesday 8th of October, Linda Ikeji’s popular gossip blog was taken down, re-instated, taken down again, and finally re-instated (October 9th) for alleged copyright infringement, apparently stemming from outbursts from a Twitter user and alleged cyber-squatter, @MrAyedee. While it has emerged (on October 10th) that the whole issue was a strange case of unrequited affection aka one-sided-love, the story is still unfolding. The Linda Ikeji vs @MrAyeDee debacle has raised a lot of questions including how to correctly deal with haters, what car to choose when you finally hammer and how to correctly use tweets and social-media-generated images in blog posts. I will address the last issue now, but I promise to deal with the initial two tougher issues later. My people advice that hot soup is better licked starting from the [cold] top.
Some people are of the opinion that bloggers must request permission before using tweets, while others think it is ok to use their tweets as long as they are informed at some point. Some say it is the the complete disregard of reference that gets their goat and others have problem with the monkey-working-baboon-chopping element. While I’m no legal expert, I’m sure we can all agree that prevention is better than cure, and it is better not to and have therefore spent quite a lot of time doing some research in finding the answers to these questions. Here’s the general consensus on this:
In the USA where Twitter is domiciled, the copyright Act of 1976 offers protection to “original works of authorship” of which tweets are a prime example. When copyrighted works are shared (on social media for example), rights to them are also shared. Most social media sites acknowledge that while users own the information they post, they grant the companies the right to use the said content. For third parties using content for commercial purposes (including excessive profiteering), the law offers little protection from copyright owners who decide to go down the litigation route.
Tweets are written content, and as such are usually treated as content from other authors. Based on this premise, it is generally deemed ok to quote an excerpt from another authors work (tweet), but it is not always ok to do so without permission. This being said, deciphering when permission is required from when it isn’t is not as straightforward as it seems therefore as a rule of thumb, it is advised to err on the side of caution and ask anyway.
When considered in context, sites like Storify rely on a culmination of tweets from various sources to tell stories. Aljazeeras @AJStream makes excellent use of this tool to present interesting trends such as the recent covering of the 30percentornothing hashtag campaign. Storify supports post-story notification and links tweets back in their original context. It’s easy to see how the quality of stories created would drastically diminish if we begin to require pre-story permission and ultimately defeat the whole point of social media making sharing easy.
Especially with retweeted photos, we can all agree that it does get difficult sometimes to trace photos back to their founding fathers. It is generally accepted offline and (hopefully) understood that photographs are the intellectual property of the photographer. However, things change a little online, and the general attitude can be “I found it online, therefore it’s free, therefore I can use it”. The problem with this thinking is that this doesn’t stand up in court. Whoever takes a photograph owns the copyright, so much so that when a monkey took a selfie using a photographers camera, there was a legal wrangle with regards to who owned the copyright (Nobody, came the ruling. It was settled that the copyright act “will not register works produced by nature, animals or plants”).
Sometimes, blogs and not-for-profits can argue that content is being used under the US copyright fair use policy. Under this policy, the blogger needs to consider whether the purpose of the work is commercial or educational, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount of content used in relation to the work as a whole, and the value of the potential market. This is a lot to wonder about, therefore Kevan Lee has very kindly supplied wonderers with a gianormous guide on 53+ free image sources for blog posts and social media posts. If you’re using images from these sources, it is ok to credit the photographer. If you’re not, seek (written) permission.
Writing about sensitive content such as sexual histories is a very sensitive issues, and often follows certain rules. Understandably so, as the great rule asks us to “do as we would be done by”. We saw a real example of this play out when Jennifer Testa, a Buzzfeed journalist received a lashing for her news piece covering a Twitter experiment by @steenfox, which asked sexual assault victims what they were wearing when they were assaulted. The issue was that the author of the experiment denied giving her permission to reproduce the responses offered in the tweet, and Buzzfeed in the report, says that it was obtained permission from the users before posting the tweet. Basically, the issue was that the originator of the experiment, @steenfox did not grant permission to reproduce the tweets of those who freely chose to participate in her experiment. See how tricky these things can be? Poynter rightfully points out that while there is an unwritten rule in journalism that you don’t identify rape victims without their permission, they backed up the journalist for gaining permission from the Twitter users whose stories were shared, and also mentioning @steenfox as the grand orchestrator of the story.
What is not right however is identifying a sexual assault victim, expressly without their permission and making a news story out of it. Even if the victim shared the story on her timeline, he/she has control over the story and can take it down anytime (can the blog owner say the same)? For those who want to delve in, Poynter offers a free special course on reporting on sexual violence here. (Originally $29.95, but subsidised by a grant from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center)
According to Jane Friedman, permission is not required in the following instances:
Thank you for reading and stay safe!