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

by Sunita

[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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