Lots of talk recently about the ethics of blockquotes and linkbacks and all of that. First you had the AP being silly. Then, on Sunday, came the much-discussed Ian Shapira article in the Washington Post. Today Maury applies that to baseball, talking about the role of “aggregators” such as Baseball Think Factory, MLB Trade Rumors, MetsBlog and the like. Upshot: a lot of people are uncomfortable with how much use of primary material others are making.
While those articles don’t deal with blog like this one directly — they’re really aimed more at spaces that put bunches of links together — I think it’s worthy to examine what common blogs do and to think about what’s kosher and what’s not when it comes to linking and blockquoting and what have you. This is not a legal fair use thing. That matters, of course — the law is certainly the baseline — but I’m not interested in talking about that right now. I’m talkin’ about friendship. I’m talkin’ about character. I’m talkin’ about – hell, Leo, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word – I’m talkin’ about ethics.
To the extent I have a blog philosophy, it’s that a blog should try to add independent value to everything he or she writes. Simply regurgitating a news article and extreme blockquoting is both useless and, well, wrong. You have to add something to it, be it insight, analysis, commentary or humor. For example, let’s say that aliens invaded planet Earth on July 13th, and AP came out with a story headlined “Bud Selig cancels All-Star Game due to alien invasion.” If you’re a blog and you do any of the following, I think you’re cool:
If, on the other hand, you simply write a post that links the AP, says “that alien invasion is cancelling the All-Star game,” quotes lots of text and ends with you simply sayng the equivalent of “hmm, interesting” or something similarly cursory, that’s kind of a problem. If you don’t have any sort of original commentary about it, but you still want your readers to read it — something which represents “web-logging” in its original and perhaps most pure form — do it link-o-rama style and just give a link that encourages click-through (“Plaschke thinks the alien All-Star thing is all Manny’s fault; check it out“). Olney does that every day, and there’s a lot of value it simply because you’re turning on people to the story who wouldn’t have otherwise read.
The idea is a simple one: either add independent value, strongly encourage click-throughs to the original source, or forget it. Ultimately, if you can’t point to a blog post and identify what it’s doing differently than the news story, then there is probably something wrong with the blog post.
No, I can’t say I always abide by this perfectly, but that’s certainly what we as blog should be shooting for.