Sunday, June 01, 2008

Disclaimer: June 2008

RdL: We have to talk, Sean.

SU: So hit me already. What's this about?

RdL: Well, remember how you asked me to take a look at your blog a couple of months ago?

SU: Yeah. Did you?

RdL: Yes, and I think it's a little... how should you say...

SU: Overkill?

RdL: Overkill.

SU: It's the monthly disclaimers, isn't it?

RdL: Yes. You are writing these once every month. That makes a lot of posts. How many of these did you say you've made again?

SU: Over forty, I think.

RdL: That's a lot.

SU: I know.

RdL: And they're all original.

SU: Everything in the blog is original. I've told you -- I put together all my own stuff. Now, I know that you're a lawyer, so let me say this: Sometimes I get inspired by other peoples' works. Sometimes I even pick up excerpts of other peoples' works and use them in the blog. But everything there -- everything written there, that is -- happens to be mine. I wrote the stuff.

RdL: Except for whatever you use that was written by other people.

SU: Yes.

RdL: You put acknowledgements for them, right? A byline or a link?

SU: Links if possible. I always put acknowledgements if I use somebody else's stuff. The Internet can be a really bad place sometimes, and as much as possible, I don't want to promote plagiaristic practices. I even mention that if anybody thinks that I haven't given them the correct acknowledgements, then I'm willing to talk this over regarding fair use of their work.

RdL: So what's this about other people using your work?

SU: It goes the other way, too. I have more than a few years of work posted on the blog, and it's open to anyone who can access the site. I don't like the idea of people copying the stuff I've written, and using it for their own personal gain. It's not fair to me, it's not fair to the people who judge them based on their effort, and it's not fair to their own personal development.

RdL: You mentioned that earlier.

SU: So what I do, is that I ask them to request permission before using any of my work. It helps me make sure that it's used for the correct purpose and context that way.

RdL: How has that worked out?

SU: Pretty good, actually. I get to meet a few great people in that way. I've even seen some excellent reinterpretations of my works. The best part is that you know that these people are honorable sorts, that they're trying to get ahead by improving their own skills.

RdL: But no one's tried to steal your work yet.

SU: I'm not sure. If someone has, then I haven't heard of it.

RdL: Or they haven't stolen your work yet.

SU: Maybe I write about subjects that can't easily be reflected in alternative venues. Maybe my style is just really distinctive. Maybe the disclaimers really are doing their job.

RdL: Maybe no one wants to steal your stuff.

SU: Maybe. I cant discount anything at this point.

RdL: Well, your fears of theft would still be justified. But I still don't understand the disclaimers. Don't you already have a license posted on your blog?

SU: That's the Creative Commons License I told you about. It's this free setup, this little thing that says that you're part of an organization that advocates fair use among Net users. When I registered for it, I set my membership up so that it covers all those things I told you about -- that people can use what I've written on the blog, as long as I'm asked permission for it.

RdL: So why the disclaimers?

SU: I had the disclaimers even before I had the license. Besides, the license is always on the bottom of the sidebar, so it might not be immediately obvious to readers. The disclaimers, on the other hand, will usually be the uppermost post for the first few days of each month. And I write about ten posts per month, so they'll usually be on my list of recent posts.

RdL: They're also very creative.

SU: I dress them up so that they're at least interesting to read. What I want to know if they're legally binding.

RdL: Well, my answer is that anything can be legally binding, as long as you cite it clearly in writing. Copyright comes into being at the moment when you create the work.

SU: I think that it would be difficult to argue against my intent to protect my work at this point. There are just so many disclaimer posts now.

RdL: That's your answer, then. I don't think that you can argue one count of plagiarism for every disclaimer you've written, but you can cite obvious intent. People can't say that you intended your blog to be for completely free use... not when you've made a lot of posts to the contrary.

SU: That's good to hear.

RdL: However, I would advise that you tone down the threats.

SU: What threats?

RdL: The ones where you threaten to do things to violators -- like use a baseball bat on them, or feed them to the dogs, or other random acts.

SU: I would, but I'd settle for a legal recourse.

RdL: You mean me.

SU: Yes. You don't have as much impact as a baseball bat or a good-sized German Shepherd, but you'll do. I know a couple of people who would probably scream at the mention of your profession.

RdL: That was uncalled for.

SU: But it's fun. Hey... are you going to finish that?

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