An interesting discussion came up on the Week 8 learning path for our course – whether reblogging is ethical, prompted by a post from a former student. It’s an interesting question, and one I hadn’t considered.
In case you are unaware, reblogging is an action where a blog author takes content created by another person and posts it on their site, with a comment from the reblogger and a link to the original content. This sounds a lot like plagiarism, and the defining factor (that I can see) that differentiates content stealing with reblogging is the attribution; sites like WordPress and Twitter (a micro-blogging website that allows user to ‘retweet’) have a formal ‘procedure’ that creates a link back to the original author. A formal reblog using the available button also notifies the original author when someone else reblogs or retweets their work.
(Reblogging shouldn’t be confused with the ‘Press This’ button, which allows you to take snippets of content but doesn’t create a link to the original post or notify the original author).
I re-blog often, using the button that WordPress provides at the top of each post. I usually choose to reblog when I like a post in it’s entirety. Why do I reblog, rather than write my own post? Mostly, it’s because I read a post and think to myself “I don’t think I can write it any better than the original author”, so I reblog. I’ve always liked reblogging as an option – it allows me to ‘feature’ an article that I think is interesting and relevant, while also crediting the original author. I’ve never thought of it as an unethical thing to do – actually, I’ve always considered it a courteous and conscientious action, as opposed to taking the idea and claiming it as my own! At least I’m linking to the original author, and sending the traffic their way, rather than copying their work without attribution, right?!
The question of ethics made me wonder about another point of view, so I turned to Google to look at alternative perspectives… and I found plenty!
It was interesting to read outrages blogs from 2010, when WordPress introduced the function. It seems that originally, the reblog function was not optional (it is optional at this point in time, and can be edited in the ‘Sharing’ section of the Dashboard). Also, at one stage, it looks like using the reblog function was not even creating a linkback to the original post! However as time has passed it seems that WordPress have reevaluated their reblog procedure and brought it in line with the ‘Limitation of Fair Use’ policy pertaining to copyright.
The internet is rife with content stealing – intentional or not – and how to correctly use someone else’s work can be a tricky. I found an article that talks about the legalities of reblogging. It is dated 2008, but has some important points to remember, including a few helpful hints to reflect on when you choose to reblog a post or use someone else’s content:
- Focus on commentary and criticism: Make sure that you are using the work to talk about it. Using a passage from a book to review it, quoting from an essay to rebut it or showing a clip from a TV show to comment on it are all likely fair uses.
- Use as little of the work as possible: Use short quotes when practical and only thumbnails of images. Really hone in on what you need to use and leave out anything you don’t.
- Attribute obsessively: Always make sure that you attribute the works you use, not just to help strengthen your point, but to show good faith. Though not always important to a fair use argument, it discourages any potential conflicts before they happen.
- Focus on transformation: Finally, and most importantly, make sure that your use of the work does not replace the original, but expands upon it. When using someone else’s work, as yourself the question “Do people, after seeing my use of the content, have a reason to view the original?” If the answer is no, then the use is much more questionable than it would be otherwise.
Bringing it back to the reblogging context, it seems that technically reblogging is not an infringement on the copyright of another person, but is it ethical?
My personal opinion, after thinking about my own use of reblogging, and how others have reblogged my posts, is that active reblogging is an ethical way to use another authors work. By active, I mean that maybe we should be doing more than just pressing the ‘reblog’ button. I think maybe we should think about things in a similar way to the SAMR hierarchy – why are we reblogging, and what difference is making? What does the reblog do that a linkback couldn’t achieve? Are we simply using the original content on our blog, or are we building to the experience by adding our own comments about why the article is relevant? Could we even take it one step further, and add some points of critique or argument?
What do you think? Is reblogging ethical? Is my use of reblogging ethical? Is reblogging more ethical or less ethical than copying and pasting content and linking back to an author? Is reblogging more ethical or less ethical than taking an idea and giving a linkback to the original content. And, as devil’s advocate, does a blog author ‘ask for it’ if they don’t disable the reblogging option?