Orthodoxy is not my doxy
Burningbird pulled an anonymous comment that she felt was racist, sexist, and bigoted:
I won’t pull a comment — even one bigoted, racist, or sexist — if the person is willing to put their name on the line. But I won’t provide a forum for a gutless wonder.
Though my comment count passed 2000 a few days ago (sorry, no competition), I’ve only pulled a single comment—a request for “technical support” that should have been sent to one of my clients, not to my weblog.
Then last week, someone included in a comment on my post, Portraying Hitler, the complete text of a recent Ron Rosembaum essay from the New York Observer, Paging Mary McCarthy! Barris and Hitler: Strange Triction.
Needless to say, this put me in something of an awkward position, since I am one of only two people in the whole of Blogaria who accept that writers might wish to exert a degree of control over how their work is used and who also feel no obligation to donate their work to the public domain.
I emailed the person who’d left the (lengthy) comment, explaining my predicament and seeking their agreement to trim the citation to a couple of paragraphs together with a link to the original piece. They unhesitatingly agreed.
Although a copyright lawyer would disagree, I don’t think they did anything particularly “terrible”—I took their quoting Rosenbaum’s entire article as evidence of an enthusiasm for his ideas and his writing as well as a desire to save my readers the trouble of following a link to the original. But the Web is, by its nature, a citing and linking medium and a link, though less convenient, offers access to Rosenbaum’s piece whilst respecting his rights as a creator and the New York Observer’s rights as a publisher.
Those who are entirely opposed to copyright provisions would no doubt argue that Ron Rosenbaum and the New York Observer both gain through my “hosting” his essay on my website. I look forward to reading those arguments in the comments on this post, particularly since the tone of the discussion about copyright has markedly improved in the last week, as evidenced by the comments on my post Still coming to terms with… and Burningbird’s post MT Gets Creative and becomes Common.
My post, which may have given the impression that I’d switched to the anti-copyright side, is perhaps the worst entry I’ve ever published on this weblog: poorly thought out and gracelessly written, it stands as a sorry reminder that a single hour in an Internet café—with a dinner appointment looming—is best spent reading other blogger’s posts rather than trying to write one of my own. But, for all its inadequacies, the post contains one truly useful insight: I’d always assumed that my writing and my photographs were my property whereas I discovered that, as far as both law and custom are concerned, my assumption was false.
Those opposed to copyright might say: “We’ve been telling you that all along.” To which I would reply: “But you expressed your beliefs and values in so objectionable a manner that I neither heard nor understood what you were saying.”
My previous post was meant to say: now I understand what you’re getting at, though I still don’t much like it, and in that understanding lies the possibility of moving the discussion forward. Because I believe, and I suspect Burningbird does too, that this is a discussion worth pursuing, not so much because she and I happen to share a contrary view but because the intertwined beliefs “copyright is bad” and “Creative Commons is good” have almost instantaneously become an orthodoxy in Blogaria (to wit, the inclusion of support for Creative Commons licenses in the next version of Movable Type). And orthodoxies are the enemy of free, creative thought.
My next step—obviously I can’t speak for Burningbird—is to give an account of how I came to (mistakenly) assume that my creative work is my property. There’s a lot of personal history in this account and it’s come as a surprise to me that, although I believe in erasing personal history, these fragments of my past still hold me tightly in their grasp.