Creative Commons and the Idea of Copyright on the Blog

I’ve posted a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-Alike license on this blog. I don’t know what that means to others, but to me it means that the content of the blog is available to be shared elsewhere as long as people (a) attribute it to me; (b) don’t use it for commercial purposes; (c) don’t use it as part of something that is not also available to be shared under the same terms (or don’t try to assert any copyright of their own over it).

I’m cool and comfortable with that plan for lots of reasons, but this morning I’m wondering how much it really means.

This train of thought started with a phone call from my mother, which is how I usually find out what I’ve been up to lately and/or what I’m about to be up to. In this case, I found out what I’d been writing…an editorial in the local paper. Really? What? When? Where? and How?

As it turns out my blog entry from Wednesday of this week appeared in the Brookhaven paper on Friday. They didn’t even call my mother first, and I know they know who she is. She’s been entering their recipe contests for forty years.

I’m actually happy my blog post made it to the paper. This isn’t a complaint, and I’m not even going to consult the attorneys in my Facebook friend list about it. I’m just pondering the practice of printing blog posts in newspapers as it relates to copyright in general and Creative Commons in particular.

Way back in my college days I was once upset about something I told a friend in confidence that was repeated. Another friend said, “Once you tell a secret, it no longer belongs to you. It’s out there. Anything can happen to it. It belongs to the world beyond the boundaries of yourself. Let it go.”

Jean Marc, you dog you, you were right about this.

And so it seems it goes with blogs. Once you post it anything might happen. It belongs to a world beyond your own control. You might as well let it go. I’m fine with that idea on some levels, but I’m in the business of teaching students not to violate copyright, so I’m by default also in the business of clarifying exactly what copyright means in the digital age. I have to admit there are blurry lines. Creative Commons has done a lot of good work in attempting to define the lines, but they continue to fuzz up around the edges.

First off, to determine whether there is a copyright issue involved at all in a newspaper printing something off a blog with a CC license without asking permission we have to define the newspaper as a commercial enterprise, the only prohibition against fair use of the work. A newspaper in a position of commercial gain in 2010? That’s a stretch. Maybe they really aren’t commercial in the spirit of the license. I just never thought about it.

More so than the actual posted copyright license I think blogs are protected by the way blogging software and bloggers themselves have evolved in the past few years. It was with digital sharing in mind that I posted a notice at all, but it may not even be necessary for that. Bloggers tend to ping back as a matter of course and a matter of common courtesy. The blogging platforms have a built in mechanism for alerting a blogger when work has been shared, and most instances of digital sharing with attribution send traffic back to the original blog. All is well.

The newspaper that printed my blog post printed it under my name and with a credit that said it was first published on this blog. The attribution part of the copyright license was covered.

I received a ping back in the from of a call from my mother, which is a fairly reliable means of communication. There was never any doubt that I’d find out my article was in the paper.

Still, I wasn’t contacted for permission, and I don’t know how they got the article. Sheer curiosity means I would have liked to have heard from the paper directly. If they had asked if they could print it, I would have said yes. Without question. I wrote about something I care about. I wanted as many people as possible to hear what I had to say. I wouldn’t have balked for a second.

I may have, however, cleaned it up a bit. I wrote that post on impulse. I slung it out there like my mother used to sling a pan of biscuits in the oven for the family while her mind was running in multiple directions at once. If she’d known company was coming, she might have worried over them a little more. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference if she had worried over them more. Maybe company would eat her biscuits just as fast as the kids without requiring her to feel any extra pressure. The only thing that would have mattered was that she might have simply preferred to put more time in for extra people.

That’s all that might have mattered to me, but it’s beside the point now because the visitors have come and gone and all that’s left are crumbs and dirty dishes.

I’m flattered more than concerned that my article was copied and printed. I laughed when my mother told me it was in the paper, especially when she said they made it “look nice” as if we were talking about a funeral home hairdo. I’m not worried a bit about the fact of it being there. I’m just thinking about the idea of it being there.

Is it common practice for newspapers to copy articles off blogs and print them without contacting the author? Really? And if so, should we have some sort of protocol for that, or is this just the reality of the blog? Is it really just out there where it might end up anywhere at all, even at the bottom of your dad’s potato crate, once you hit the publish button?