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A Question about Comments and Permission

Amy (a ProBlogger reader) sent me a question this morning that I thought might make an interesting discussion question:

“A writer for a newspaper would like to quote some of the comments my readers have left on my blog. As the blogger, I’m not sure what’s appropriate–to give her my permission to use whatever comments she wants OR to insist she first tell me the comments she wants to use so I can contact each commenter and get their permission.”

What do you think? Do you (or anyone else) need to get the permission of those who leave comments on your blog if you’re using their comments for any other purpose than where they’ve left the comment?

I’m interested in your opinion.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Catnabbit says:

    I think that if someone submits a comment to be used on your site, they are giving you permission to publish it how you see fit. If they wanted to retain the copyright on their words they could have written their own article and sent a trackback

  2. Alex says:

    I’m impressed that the reporter bothered to ask in the first place, and I think it would be appropriate to allow the comments to be quoted. On the flip side, I think if the blogger were to refuse to allow the quotation, the reporter would not be crossing any lines by going ahead and using it anyway. Comments on a blog, in my view, are rather like comments someone might post on a bulletin board. They are public. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with quoting something that someone chooses to state publicly.

  3. I believe that because most comments are added to public blogs, rather than private, where comments are read by all visitors, those same comments can be re-published on request by a media source without permission from the person who’s provided the comment.

    Requiring the media source to identify which comments are of interest for republication is a valid concern. It’s your blog. Why not get details beforehand?

    This question does bring up a valid point regarding republication. I provide notification on one of my sites that all submitted comments are subject to republication in any form. Perhaps the same statement should be posted on blogs.

  4. I tend to agree with the above comments. If someone posts a comment on your blog knowing they are in public view, I believe that they waive any copyright they may have to the contents of that comment.

    However, if someone posts a comment and includes a link to their site or some other resource box, I believe that this should be republished along with the comment.

    What do you guys think of this?

  5. brem says:

    You can use it, but it can’t be used against them… therefore, anonymously.

    Unless given permission by the author of the comment.

  6. Darren Rowse says:

    Ok – I think I agree with most of what’s been argued above. It a reporter is quoting a comment I think that’s ok – in an article.

    But how about if we extend this a little further hypothetically.

    Do you think it’d be similar if a blogger were to use a comment left by a reader in a book that they were publishing and selling for income?

    I’ve talked to one person recently who is from a publisher who says that doing so wouldn’t be acceptible and that permission would need to be gotten.

    Thoughts?

  7. If it was me I would want to know what comments she is interested in so I could make sure it is alright with the person who wrote the commment. That may may not be needed by I think it is appropriate.

  8. Michael Rew says:

    My comments are mine unless your terms of service (TOS), which most blogs do not have, express otherwise. Most public forums online have TOS with sections about what rights I give up when I post something. The obvious exception in the United States is the Fair Use Doctrine.

    I would not sue if a blogger reprinted my comments without my permission, but some commenters would sue you, especially if you have no TOS. And you must consider that someone might forge an inflammatory comment to slander another’s name; thus, verifying the commenter’s identity is paramount, even if TOS are in place.

    Amy should ask, at least, for the journalist to contact that media outlet’s legal department before using the comment.

  9. Bill Peschel says:

    Legally, so long as it’s on a public forum accessible by millions of Internet users worldwide, it can be used and quoted.

    The reporter does have an obligation to make sure that a quote from a public figure is from that figure. For example, if I posted some nonsense here as “Mel Gibson,” the reporter shouldn’t say that Mel said bollocks here.

    The one exception could be on a private e-mail list, distributed to members of the list only and not available online, but I’m not sure about that. It may not be legal, but taking legal action in that case might not be worth the candle.

  10. Hmmm I also agree that if comments are posted you can use them as you see fit, for example when books etc. quote the comments made about them by newspapers and such?

  11. Taco John says:

    I think the lesson here is that every blogger should have a statement on their website, linked to immediately before or after the comment form, which states that they are posting the comment in a public place, are not liable for any damages caused by the comment, and that the blogger reserves the right to do whatever he wants with the comment, including (but not limited to) quoting the comment, profiting from reuse of the comment, allowing other media outlets to use the comment gratuitously or for profit, and deleting the comment. I would also have, linked right before my comments, a policy for the reuse of comments posted on my site. You can make your decision about the policy here, but I might ask that I be notified, and that any any comments used inappropriately must be taken down if I request. You might want a seperate policy for mainstrem media (like if the comment is going to be used in print or on television).

  12. I think I am with CatNabbit point of view .. it’s understood (to me) that I give permission to every blog owner that I comment on, that you can do whatever the heck you want with my comment. Unless you are TYME (remove links) or people who edit comments then, I won’t be commenting on their site that much anyway. If a quote appears which is really a trackback, I think that is out-of-bounds .. because anything taken could only be taken out of context anyway.

    Yes .. it would suck if someone wrote a book and included a few comments that I made on someone’s blog .. especially if it because a top seller book! But, that’s just ego. It would be nice to get a free copy if someone did that as a gesture ..so I can show my geeky friends … I’m published! Woohoo! and I can prove it!. Also, it would be nice if someone writing books that included my comment actually spell out my website in case the book goes to non-E-Book status .. e.g. HART (1-800-HART) from http://www….. etc

  13. Graydon says:

    Ideas, thoughts, and the sort… once public – are free to everyone… the written sentence and “story” behind them is.

    Take a look at recipes for cooking… Once published, the list of ingredients is now common knowledge… but dare to republish the author’s written communication on how that recipe always made him think of his grandmother and the time the spent on Cape Cod / Cape Hatteras / Cape Horn / Cape whatever… then you get into copywrite… (at least as far as I can tell).

    So, comments from blogs… if you are summarizing the thought, question, idea, etc… you might be fine… but quote directly… I doubt that would fly.

  14. David F says:

    While I think it is nice that some people are more than willing to have their content re-distributed anyplace on-line, it does not mean that those are given legal rights to anyone who would like to use them.

    I own a number of small-to-large online communities (forums) and have done in-depth research (personally and via our lawyers) regarding copyright ownership & usage of on-line content and here are a few things I have found..

    1. The person that posts that content has the ultimate ownership. This ownership is not moved to “public domain” just because they post it in what many consider “public” places… i.e. blogs, forums, live chats, guestbooks, etc.

    2. It very much matters what the Forum or Blog (etc) owner states in their policies. I personally have a perpetual use policy which simply states that the person making the post gives us the right to use their content for the life of the community. We also may use their content in any publications we produce such as newletters, etc. Many forum owners actually demand a joint-work copyright where they are part of the creative. This would be similar to a photographer or journalist working for a company. That company usually owns the rights to the work.

    3. Anyone who infringes on this copyright can be pursed by both the copyright holder and/or the publisher (forum / blog owner) legally.

    So, my advice to anyone who is posting comments or content on the web and cares about copyright ownerships and how they are applied is to read the policies you agree to when you post. In the case of blogging this might not apply nearly as much as when you have to register and confirm for a forum, but the copyright ownership is the same… Nobody can legally come and pull content for the heck of it.

    Now, I know some will now stand up and say “Fair Use”… Well, fair use is much more limited than 98% of people on the net know, but that is another story.

    Bottom line is it is right for people to contact site owners, admins & webmasters and request use of any content on their Blog or site. Usually when they do this with me I give them limited permission, but only after I find out exactly what it is going to be used for.. (So, yes, I asked. :) )

  15. CJ says:

    I’m going to break from the pack and ignore the copyright issues. From a publishing standpoint — with which the reporter should be familiar — it comes down to citation guidelines. The reporter is acting out of politeness, but this isn’t a copyright issue. It’s an online/Internet citation issue. And the reporter can basically go with citation guidelines, assuming they don’t quote the entire comment. (Okay, so I am getting into copyright a little.)

  16. JT says:

    Comments are the property of the blog that they were posted on.
    Although the blog does not hold respnsibility for them??

    Seems a bit contradictory, but that is how most blog owners feel.

  17. Jon says:

    I don’t think comments can be owned by anyone other than the blog they appear on. After all, despite the fact the I leave a name, email, URL and IP address; all of these can be faked, therefore determining the “real” writer of the comment is next to impossible. For that reason, any claim of copyright infringement would be very difficult to substantiate.

  18. Thilak says:

    I think you should let her publish your comments,

  19. Raven Ryan says:

    I feel that comments should be quoted. Otherwise they can be rephrased by the reporter. As long as one’s privacy is concern, using a “blog reader” tag as a mask would be sufficient, assuming that names (of those who have left a comment) have to be protected.

  20. Jim says:

    Darren,

    Interesting that you should have this discussion today. I read you daily (seriously, I have for many months) and thought that you very likely would have picked up on the firestorm of controversy around a new site called Feedpass. (Disclaimer: This is the founder of Feedpass commenting.)

    Feedpass creates landing pages that make subscribing to blogs like yours quite simple. Unlike FeedBurner, who takes control of your feed, Feedpass just creates a new landing page for the feed. Since the feed address stays the same, you are free to use the Feedpass page or stop linking to it at any time without any negative effect on your feed.

    Feedpass places Google AdSense ads on the page and rotates credit for the page views between the creator of the Feedpass page, Feedpass themselves, and IF the blog has been “claimed”, the other 1:3 page view credit goes to the content owner.

    The controversy has been over the ability for ANYONE to create a Feedpass for feeds that they may not even own. This has been picked up by many of the big A-list bloggers, like Dave Winer, Mike Arrington, and many, many more. Some of them were very upset that Feedpass was providing the ability to monetize their content without their permission….which I believe ties in nicely to your discussion topic. Is this fair use? Is it okay for some sites to profit from article titles, summaries and comments from your blog, and not okay for others?

    Here’s a few choice blog postings on various sides of the issue, including a blog from Duncan Riley, one of your B5 counterparts.

    http://mashable.com/2006/05/20/feedpass-rss-landing-pages/
    http://duncanriley.com/2006/05/22/feedpass-debate-rages/
    http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/05/21/feedpass-does-absolutely-nothing/
    http://www.kbcafe.com/rss/?guid=20060522081957

    On the Feedpass pages, we show the last 4 posts along with a short excerpt (never more than 400 characters), of the article. If a post is less than 800 characters, we only display 1/2 of it, requiring the user to click through to read more.

    The point has been brought up: What is really any different about this than bloggers who have a site supported by ads that contains links to articles, summaries and even comments from another blog? Even Technorati is called out on this by Randy Charles Morin in The RSS Blog. (See the KBCafe link above)

    I’d love to hear your viewpoints on this and that of your regular readers, many of which are bloggers that are obviously interested in monetization. This is an entirely new way to monetize your blog content even BEFORE a reader subscribes. It’s also a way to encourage others to link to you…because they stand a chance to earn a few bucks by using Feedpass instead of just a blind link.

    By the way, we are compatible with FeedBurner, so you can even create a Feedpass for your current blog URL. Then, just get your readers to create Feedpass pages and use them on their sites and blogrolls to point to your feed. You’ll benefit, those that link to your sites will benefit, and readers will be able to subscribe with ease, hopefully increasing your subscription rates.

    We created a Feedpass for you at http://www.feedpass.com/problogger so you can see what this is. Should you wish to claim it, just let us know and I’ll move the registration for the Feedpass over to you.

    Jim
    Feedpass

  21. Interesting post up here, hmm…

    Firstly the comments in the blog belong to the commentor! However, the blogger has certain rights to use them elsewhere in his/her blog. Similarly other bloggers can say A comemnted so.

    So, I don’t see why newspapers shouldn’t. As long as they link to the blog.

    If you are commenting in a public place, then your comment can be quoted by anyone.

  22. Bif says:

    If you make a comment in a public forum, you leave yourself open to this. Andno harm, so long as attribution is given. Just last Sunday, an article in the Sunday Times quoted an anonymous Wikipedia editor.

  23. Lea says:

    I think it would come down to the interaction of the licensing statement on the website (you have one around here somewhere, right, Darren?) and the law in the various jurisdictions, principally that of the person who is going to use the comments.
    So, who knows!

  24. Chris Howard says:

    As it’s a public forum, the comments are already in the public domain. The commenter hasn’t put any provisios on their usage so I’d say quote away.

    BUT be courteous, show your appreciation, include a link back to their site.

  25. Ed Charles says:

    As I understand it (as a journalist) Fair Use is the concept in that you can quote a bit of somethjing as long as you credit it. Journalists can get away with out asking permission and I do it all the time from research and reports. However, i think especially with blogs it is a nice touch if someone asks. I was impressed recently when London-based Australian food writer Terry Durack asked if he could quote something that a celebrity chef told me. Nice touch. Ditto for comments if you can find the commenter, of course.

  26. Comments are owned by the person making the comment. End of story. If you try to claim my intellectual property as yours, simply because it appears on your blog, you’re going to find yourself in a mountain of legal trouble.

    And if you try to claim it as yours in advance, through terms of service, I’m simply not going to leave a comment.

  27. JT says:

    If the blog owner owns the comments, then the blow owner is responsible for them and the damage that comes from them.

    lawsuits.

  28. I feels as if its on your site its your to use…but give full credites and above all dont change the content

  29. Amy Andrews says:

    Thank you all for your input. Wow. I didn’t realize there’d be such differing views on the subject. Now, if only I could figure out what to do… :)

  30. Well, I’m a professional journalist in the U.S. and I have to say I would have no problem using comments from a blog in a story. But you do have to be careful. As noted above, if mayor of your town is commenting on a blog and you’re using his or her quotes in a news story you better be CERTAIN that he or she is the originator of those quotes and not an imposter.

    My newspaper, like most these days, has a stringent four-step test reporters must meet before they can use an unnamed source, and then the top editor of the paper still has to approve it.

    And the context is important. If it’s a light-hearted story, I bet I could get permission to use unnamed blog comments in the paper, perhaps to give a “flavor” of the blog I am writing about.

    I’ve also seen cases where newspapers have quoted from blogs maintained by criminals, for instance, who sometimes say amazingly incriminating things online.

    From a commenter’s perspective, I think anyone posting comments on a blog should consider it no different than if they tacked their comments on a bulletin board in the town square, or stood in the square and shouted their thoughts out loud. If people hear or read your comments and they repeat them accurately and fairly attributed to you, then you really have no recourse.

    From a journalist’s perspective, I also start from the assumption that quotes out there on the Net are fair game for use. But do know that in most cases, before a journalist would use blog comments, a fair bit of thought would be given to the context, fairness and legitimacy of the source before most MSM news outlets would quote them.

  31. laura says:

    I dont think you need to seek a permission if the writer is using the comments for some fair purpose. Let him do his work and you should definitely help him out.

  32. BIZ-GIANT says:

    hello darren…

    As to the question above..

    If you someone leaves a comment or post they should be aware that the rest of the world can see it, which would now make that post public i agree with laura that you shouldnt have to seek permission,it boils down to what purpose their comments will be used for.

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] interessante Frage, die Darren aufstellt. Wenn jemand Drittes die Kommentare aus Deinem Blog benutzen möchte – für was auch immer (Zeitung, Buch, Blog, Forum) – muss er dann Dich als Bloginhaber fragen und/oder vielmehr die Kommentatoren? [...]

  2. [...] Darren posted a email that he received asking about the rights for use of comments.  His post is through this link. [...]