Reposting blog material in full w/out permission is copyright infringement [UPDATED]

[UPDATE: John Simpson is no longer on Goodreads under his previous sock puppet account, so the links to his comments no longer work. I took screencaps and saved the pages as html and pdf files, so I've changed the relevant links to those files.]

Recently I stumbled upon a 1-star review of an m/m book over at Goodreads. The reviewer gave a long and detailed explanation for her grade, and the evidence seemed pretty strong to me.

Then the author showed up in the comments section, called the reviewer a cow and a heifer, and went on to say, “Hate my writing so much, don’t fucking read it.” He then went on to post two other full reviews of this book in the comments thread (warning: link is to pdf file) presumably as counter-examples.

This response violated at least three basic tenets of Good Author Behavior:

(1) Don’t respond to reviews, especially negative ones. If you insist on doing so, don’t engage the particulars of a review unless there are clear and incontrovertible factual mistakes.

(2) Don’t use a sockpuppet account to try and hide your identity, especially if you’re going to do so badly and unconvincingly.

(3) Don’t abuse the reviewer by calling her names and swearing at her (do I really have to write this one down? Yes, apparently I do).

But aside from egregiously violating norms of etiquette and Goodreads’ Terms of Use, the commenter committed another major blunder: he engaged in copyright infringement.

It’s not the first time someone who appears to be John Simpson, the author of the book being reviewed, has done so. He’s done it at Amazon as well, in response to reviews of another book. And, on his site, he has over two dozen reviews scraped from review sites and blogs.

No author is allowed to post, in its entirety, someone else’s review of his book on his own website without explicit permission. Even if it says wonderful things and he really, really likes it. It doesn’t belong to him.

In case you don’t remember, there was a major dustup a while ago by the publisher of a small food magazine. She was under the impression that “the web is considered ‘public domain.’” No it isn’t, at least not by anyone sensible.

An author may post a snippet from a review and add a link so that others can read the whole thing for themselves.  Alternatively, he can contact the writer and ask if he can use the review at his site. The reviewer may say yes. Or she may say no. Whatever the outcome, the author must abide by the decision and respect that reviewer’s right to control over her creative product.

And if the author receives permission, he should clearly state “used with permission” and provide a link back to the original site. A reader should not have to guess if the author has permission or where it came from. As a reviewer, I can assure you that if I see one of my reviews scraped and pasted in full at an author’s blog without my permission, I’m unlikely ever to review anything by that person again.

In case it isn’t absolutely clear: the internet is not a giant sandbox of public domain property. If a blogger, reviewer or any other kind of writer posts something online, she holds the copyright to that.

There are conditions under which it is acceptable to reproduce part or all of someone else’s material without permission. Here is a handy guide to “Fair Use” from Stanford. Note that “because it provides good publicity and I like it” is not a category.

Authors, just as the words in your stories are your intellectual property, our words on our blogs belong to us. If you want to use them, ask us. And then, if we say yes, post them with a clear statement that you have received our permission to do so. If we say no, then quote your favorite sentence or two and embed a link to the full review.

Anything else is just blog piracy.

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18 thoughts on “Reposting blog material in full w/out permission is copyright infringement [UPDATED]

  1. Wow. He called the reviewer a cow? That’s just….wow. Dude, you can think it – but it’s not terribly kosher to SAY it.

    Excellent post, and I don’t have much to add – other than in my experience a lot of us who review online are pretty easy-going so long as we’re attributed. In all my years online I think I’ve had like one author actually ASK me beforehand, and that was my response. Attribute my words to me and it’s all good.

  2. Yeah, no matter how ridiculous it sounds you do have to type it up – don’t call reviewer names, please don’t. Personally (and again I know it sounds obvious) but I have ridiculously low tolerance for that – you can’t be civil, I can’t review your books, period. And more obvious observation – no reader/reviewer that I know picks up the book thinking something along the lines “oh yeah, I am going to give this book a bad review, I just know it”. I mean, maybe such readers exist, I am just saying I do not personally know them. Readers with whom I talk to on more or less regular basis want to like pretty much every book they pick to read and if they don’t and feel compelled to write a review, it is not a personal attack against the author, no truly, while I cannot discard all those online claims about revenge reviews, I again know no reader/reviewer who ever does that. They just want to express their opinion about the book, if the book sufficiently moved them in a positive or negative way. Can they please do that without authors going ballistic on their reviews? That was a rhetorical question lol. Sorry for the rant and thank you for this post. I won’t even start talking about the subject which your post is actually devoted to, you said it all and so well.

  3. It just boggles my mind that people, particularly writers, do not know that this kind of thing is a violation of copyright. My own suspicion is that people who do this just don’t care and so, the reaction from the review community should be that the infringing authors books are just not going to get any reivews. If enough reviewers get on board, it might teach these folks to care.

  4. It *is* kind of mind-boggling that an author who is repeatedly and egregiously insulting toward reviewers is still reviewed. As for why reviewers allow this sort of thing, I’m not sure. Some may not realize that even though they’re writing about his book, their reviews are still their own property. A lot of people don’t understand that you don’t have to register copyright to own it (you have to register to collect damages, but copyright itself doesn’t require registration to be in effect). Maybe they appreciate the publicity they get.

    What with aggregation such a huge and profitable enterprise (Huffington Post being the most obvious example), the line between aggregating, excerpting, and cutting-and-pasting is getting very blurry.

    I also don’t understand why Simpson is allowed to have a GR account. He explicitly violates several terms of use clauses, just in this set of comments.

    I don’t usually call out individuals in my blog, but seemed as if it deserved an exception.

    And Liz, I’m with you. The level of vitriol that has invaded my normal mostly-happy spaces is starting to get to me. A lot.

    • Maybe it’s showing my age, but I was taught throughout all of my education that copying another’s words without attribution was wrong. Period. And there were consequences if we were caught – usually it meant you got zero on the assignment at the very least and some public shaming as well. I was speaking with a community college instructor recently who says that she knows of at least four “kids” who were caught cheating and suffered no consequences for their actions. They “knew” it was wrong, but because there were no consequences they didn’t care. Maybe the “real world” has to start imposing the consequences that these people didn’t get during their academic careers.

      As for author attacks on critics and reviewers, I wish we could have the epic battles such as those between Mark Twain and his critics – they were entertaining. Most of what we see today is just petty and stupid and doesn’t inspire me to pick up any of the authors who engage in this sort of behaviour.

      • Oh, we still teach it. But it’s hard to get consequences enforced in today’s environment, which focuses on students as consumers rather than formative minds to be educated. And the parents get involved now, to a much greater degree. I’ve successfully pursued plagiarism incidents (the two universities I’ve taught at have been pretty decent in terms of process and follow-through), but everyone I know has a horror story about dealing with a student plagiarist.

        Attribution is problematic online as well, because some bloggers and aggregators think that as long as you provide a link, you’re fine. But if you paste in 70-90 percent of the original content, most people are not going to click on that link. So you’re providing attribution but failing on the other front, which is the use of links as ways for your sources to get their own visitors. And people are likely to remember the scraper as the source, rather than the original provider of the content.

        • Ah yes, the parents… enough said.
          Is there a specific attribution code for quoting from blogs etc.? If so, where would I find it?

          • My understanding is that quoting a few sentences and linking to the original source is adequate for text under fair use provisions. For photos you usually need explicit permission. The Stanford web site I linked to above has a lot more information; on the linked page, scroll up to almost the top and click on “Copyright and Fair Use Overview.”

  5. Excellent post! :) You know, when I clicked the link to go to his website…I was confronted with a video still that said “…united in their love for God.” I am like REALLY? REALLY? This man dares to talk about God and stuff, there and on his profile and doesn’t had a shred of decency to his name? Talk about hypocrite.

    • There are a lot of weird things on that site. To each his own, I guess. Or, for every author there is a reader out there? Hard to imagine in some cases, but you never know. ;)

  6. Just getting around to commenting, but Simpson’s site prompted me to tweet saying you just can’t copy a whole review and post it on your site in its entirety, that’s clearly copyright infringement.

    I just think it’s so selfish too, whatever the legalities of it. Bloggers and review sites want readers, obviously, like writers want sales. If a writer posts the entire review then there’s no reason for the readers to go to the review site. How is that a fair or kind way to treat someone who just gave you a nice review?

    If I was going to post about a review I’d got, I’d quote a bit of it (hopefully a bit including words like “brilliant” and “compelling” ;D) and then link to the whole thing, so that I’m driving traffic to the reviewer’s site. And since it’s bad form to actually go along and thank the reviewer in the comments or something, then getting their site a few more views is, to me, a way I can say “thanks”.

    • Yeah, I agree. It is selfish. I invariably look at the reviews when I go to an author site, and if I see a positive review for a book I like, I check out the blogger. I can google it and get the link myself if it’s not there, but a lot of people don’t (as we both know from the ratio of people who click through links on our posts). Especially if it’s a smaller blogger, what do you lose by linking? Nothing. It’s bizarre to me.

  7. Not sure what most of you think you’re talking about here, this is perfectly legal under fair use in most cases. As we all know, fair use is hit and miss, and it’s taken on a case-by-case basis. So something that might have be found fair use for one person, might not be for the next, but just so you all know, it is a very large gray area here, and not as cut and dry as many of you are making it out to be.

    Many things go into a judge’s decision.
    1. Was the re-posting for commercial use or was it for education/research/criticism use?
    2. Was the item being infringed valuable?
    3. Was the copyright holder deprived of revenue due to the supposed infringment? (And no, you feeling like you’ve missed a few hits that you otherwise might have had is not being deprived of revenue, courts like this little thing called “proof”)
    4. Was it a creative work or an informational work?

    Simply having an opinion does not entitle you to copyright protection of that opinion or even how you chose to express it, you may make a point someone else finds intriguing and wants to post it to their site to get a conversation going, there are a couple cases that have already addressed this, and ruled in the re-posters favor, and this was with newspapers, something a good deal more valuable than blog posts. I don’t see how anyone could successfully fight a court case of an unauthorized reproduction of a blog (of all things) that was not used for commercial purpose and that was used to generate discussion.

    In short, most of you IP pushers have no clue what you gabbing about on here and need to put your foot in your mouth. I tell ya…. most of you people are whine bags… like nails on a chalk board. Stop trying to control other people, if you’re a creator, create. Stop worrying about what people are doing with the things you create, instead, you should be flattered people like your stuff enough to reproduce it.

    • Did you read the post before commenting?

      John Simpson scraped for commercial use, i.e., to advertise his books using material other people had written. Most of what you’re saying isn’t even relevant. For example, his website doesn’t have a section for comments in the area he posts the scraped reviews, so there’s no question of trying “to get a conversation going.”

      But thanks for visiting.

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