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Applied blogging ethics; or a harsh lesson, taught without malice

In the recent discussion about blogging ethics, a grad student named Martin popped in. He found the discussion fascinating, and asked people to take part in a survey about blogging ethics. He has also asked my permission to use my proposals (and, presumably, others' comments about my ideas) in his upcoming doctoral thesis. Martin also posted pretty much the exact same thing on several of the blogs that tracked back to the original piece.

I must admit I didn't take Martin's efforts well. First, it struck me as lazy -- he was trying to get others to do his research for him. Second, it struck me as presumptuous -- he was simply "horning in" on the ongoing dialogue (admittedly as it was winding down) and, essentially, saying "please continue this conversation over here, where I might take notes more conveniently." He didn't offer any contributions to the topic; he simply wanted to use it for his own benefit. Third, I went over to his site and checked out his questions. I found them a rather sloppy bit of work -- linguistic buzzwords used instead of words of substance, careless typos, and remarkably inconsistent. Several of the questions used "inside baseball" lingo from his classwork -- "RAWLS," "Kantian," and "Rossian" were the three that jumped out at me -- but he wasn't consistent in defining them and giving them context. Finally (and I really can't blame him for this one, but Blogger.com), to enter a comment, a reader had to click through at least three pages ("Comments," "add a comment," and "post anonymously" seemed the shortest route), calling forth a bit more effort than on most blogs. (Here at Wizbang, it's a single click.) All those combined to put me in a less than charitable mood.

I gave it some time, however, and my irritation with Martin subsided. After all, I'm hardly in any position to criticize others for sins such as laziness and arrogance. I chalked it up to the callowness of youth and the arrogance that comes naturally to those who are highly educated, yet little experienced. It was wrong of me to take it personally.

Nonetheless, I am denying my permission to Martin to quote my previous piece.

As the title says, though, I do this without malice. I do this as to give Martin a singular lesson in an ancient principle, and to give him a practicum element for his thesis.

The ancient principle, Martin, is "you never have a second chance to make a good first impression." While I have excised some of the vehemence of my initial impression, I have not forgotten it entirely. In our very first encounter, you gave me a very poor impression of you, and that will color all our future interactions. While I don't expect there to be very many more such interactions, you will meet many more people for the first time, and I hope you'll recall the time you ticked off someone from the outset and how it complicated future dealings.

The practicum aspect, Martin, is this: you have asked my permission to quote my earlier posting, and I have denied it. But that denial of mine has absolutely zero standing and value. For one, if you look down to the bottom of the left column of Wizbang's main page, it says "Copyright Kevin Aylward." Kevin owns this site and every single thing on it -- his own postings, Paul's, mine, and all comments. I do not have his authority to give or deny such permission, nor do I wish it. My own suspicion is that Kevin wouldn't give a rat's patoot whether you do or not, but that's simply not for me to say.

For another, your proposed usage of my piece falls under the "fair use" exception to copyright law. I have published it, it is in the public eye, and you have every legal right to quote it fully (as long as you give proper credit) without fear of any legal consequences.

I once heard that the best definition of character is how one behaves when there is no chance of being watched or caught. So that's your practicum in blogging and ethics, Martin. You have sought permission from me to use my work (and that of my commenters), and I have denied it. You are under absolutely no legal obligation to respect that denial, and there is absolutely no way I will ever know or care whether you do. What will you do now?

Don't answer immediately, Martin. Give it some thought.

For what it's worth, I don't object to you quoting this particular posting. And before anyone asks, I included the link to your page as a conscious act -- just because I found it irritating doesn't mean that others won't want to contribute.

J.


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Comments (18)

I've actually got my own li... (Below threshold)

I've actually got my own little code for my blog, if you're interested in checking it out:
http://sophistpundit.blogspot.com/2004/11/bloggers-manifesto.html

I think it's important to have standards to hold ourselves to.

Maybe it's just me, but bet... (Below threshold)
chad:

Maybe it's just me, but between this post and the original blogging ethics post you seem like a person looking to take offense. I read the comment by Martin and I don't see what you are complaining about. What he did is supposed to be one of the purposes of the trackback and comment functions.

I have noticed a bullying trait in your posts. I first noticed this in the PC vs. Mac discussion last month. It was really brought home today when I read this post and the original response to Martin and your posts at his site. The conversation between yourself and Martin would have been much better handled via e-mail, what this amounts to is a public reprimand of a subordinate for no good purpose.

I don't agree, Chad. I thin... (Below threshold)

I don't agree, Chad. I think Jay's post raises some interesting questions. I won't go so far as to say they're important questions — let's face it, we're not talking life and death here. But the essential question is, to me, an interesting one. There is no reason why Martin shouldn't quote the page he wants to quote, except that Jay, when asked if he could do so, said no. What will he do? What should he do?

(I know my answer. I'm wondering about other people's answers.)

Personally, I think the talk about blogging ethics is more sound and fury than anything. As I wrote in an e-mail to a fellow blogger last night, my code of ethics is "be ethical." I trust my gut to tell me what's right and what's wrong, and I let the details handle themselves. Rigorous and defensible? Heck, no. But that's the great thing about being a blogger: I have absolutely no one to answer to but myself.

HOWEVER, I think the discussion about ethics is an interesting one, and I don't think Jay is doing anything unseemly by continuing with a hands-on case study.

"But that denial of mine ha... (Below threshold)

"But that denial of mine has absolutely zero standing and value. For one, if you look down to the bottom of the left column of Wizbang's main page, it says "Copyright Kevin Aylward." Kevin owns this site and every single thing on it -- his own postings, Paul's, mine, and all comments. I do not have his authority to give or deny such permission, nor do I wish it."

I don't think that is strictly true. What Kevin asserts, or rather what the copyright line asserts, is that the page is copyright by Kevin -- but that does not extend in an automatic way to give him copyright on portions of the page created by others.

Unless there is an express grant of rights by others to the copyright holder.

I think what we are looking at here is a case of compilation copyright in which the container and arrangement of items is held in copyright but not, necessairly, each individual item by others.

Vanderleun - Argua... (Below threshold)
Lysander:

Vanderleun -

Arguable. I'm not sure if the assertion of All original content copyright ? 2003-2004 by Kevin Aylward. All rights reserved. is sufficient to capture comments, but it would be an interesting arguments to get to the position that it would. I personally think that there's not enough notice to encompass reader's comments, but I haven't checked other boards or other commentable areas (such as IMDB or Amazon) for their notices. There is certainly a compilation copyright, and Kevin could defend the copyrights of the posters should he (and they) see fit to proceed that way. Just remember though, where there's Fair Use, there's also the possibility for False Light ;)

Lysander

Unfortunately, Jay, I don't... (Below threshold)
Sean:

Unfortunately, Jay, I don't think the "copyright" notice posted on this website will be able to prevent Martin from using whatever he wants in his paper. It is an academic piece and taking your ethics statements amounts to "fair use", as he will likely compare and contrast them with other similar statements and his own theories.

The same principle that allows you to take, post, and criticize Dr. David Hailey's work without first obtaining his permission.

I am skipping reading all t... (Below threshold)
chad:

I am skipping reading all the other comments until this afternoon, so I can post this and hang my head in shame. JT did not post the PC vs. Mac threads I referenced in my earlier post. Paul did. I don't know why I got the two confused but I did and I am both embarrased and sorry.

Sean, I don't think it's a ... (Below threshold)

Sean, I don't think it's a question of somehow preventing Martin from pulling quotes. Of course he's legally entitled to do so. The question, I think, is what his ethical obligation is now that he has asked for permission and had that permission declined.

First, chad, you're right. ... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

First, chad, you're right. I avoided the PC/Mac topic -- I try to avoid religious arguments whenever possible.

And thanks, Jeff, that's exactly right. I have absolutely no way of preventing Martin from doing a bloody thing. But I have given him a rather pointy ethical dilemma, especially in light of his interest in blogging and ethics. Intead of just talking about ethics and quoting other people about ethics, he has to actually deal with them, face-to-face, and (I hope) might learn more than he ever could from simply reading and regurgitating.

I actually thought (and still do) that would be even more valuable to him personally than simply adding to his list of "works cited."

Plus, it was more fun. And that's always a plus in my book.

J.

You're right Jeff. I broug... (Below threshold)
Sean:

You're right Jeff. I brought up the copyright law because Jay mentioned it. Had I read more closely, instead of skimming as is my habit, I would have seen he discussed the same things I mentioned in my original post.

So the question becomes what weight does the original request of permission carry, ethically. We know it carries no weight legally.

If you are not bound by the need to acquire permission, do you thereafter bind yourself with that need simply by seeking it out? As Jay mentioned, this is a fine ethics question in and of itself. I have some opinions, but it seems like a long discussion that will require some thought. So for now I'll just leave it with the question and a brief answer subject to change upon deeper reflection.

Initially, I would say, when permission is unnecessary to act, whether you thereafter become ethically bound by permission after voluntarily seeking it, depends on several factors. Including, but not limited to: how pressing is your need and how reasonable was the refusal of permission.

A perfect "real world" example is the Bush Administration's attempt to gain permission from the U.N. to act against Iraq. Prior to that Bush and Co. did not feel they needed to get permission (and practically speaking did not require such permission). That permission to act was denied. The U.S. launched against Iraq anyway. Did that make the Iraq War unethical? No. Why? Because the need to get permission was very slight (lots of reasons, including several previous Resolutions being violated, U.S. sovereignty and right to defense) and that permission was not reasonably denied.

How does the Martin (no relation, by the way, for those looking at my e-mail address) situation compare and contrast?

Of course, on another note, Jay has no right, even ethically speaking, to deny Martin to use what was left by others in the Comments.

If you are not bound by ... (Below threshold)

If you are not bound by the need to acquire permission, do you thereafter bind yourself with that need simply by seeking it out?

For me, personally, I think the answer is yes. If you ask somebody, "Do you mind if I take your picture?" and the answer is "yes, I do," and you go ahead and take it anyway … well, we have a word for people like that. That word is "dick."

Is it unethical to be a dick, or is it just socially unwise? I guess that depends on the ethical system to which you subscribe.

I do want to reiterate, though, that I give Jay mad props for taking what would otherwise be an incredibly dry discussion of journalistic ethics and turn it into a modern-day Zen koan. He's so cool. He's my hero. He's dreamy.

A perfect "real world" example is the Bush Administration's attempt to gain permission from the U.N. to act against Iraq.

I don't think you'll have to look very far to find somebody who'll explain to you, in no uncertain terms, why that's a really bad way of characterizing what happened at the UN in the spring of 2003. But I don't feel like having that discussion right now, and even if I did this certainly wouldn't be the place. But I do think that hole in your example kinda diminishes its value in this context. Don't take that personally; I'm just spouting off at the mouth here, as usual.

I would have used "rude", b... (Below threshold)
Sean:

I would have used "rude", but I suppose your description is equally apt. Is rudeness unethical? While rudeness and lack of ethics are not mutually exclusive, they are also not always the same thing.

If by "hole" in my example you refer to the fact that several members of the security council were bribed to vote against U.S. interests, that goes to the reasonableness of the refusal for permission. That's not a hole in the example, in my opinion, that makes the example very clear. Of course, I suppose that depends on how one views the Iraq war. Those who disagree with it probably would not see such a refusal as unreasonable.

Again, I think this all comes down to, in my mind, the need for permission (in the sense of legality) and reasonableness of refusal in any particular context. Those two elements must be examined. If either element is very strong, then I agree it would be unethical to proceed. If both are weak then I don't see an ethics problem.

The way I see it. If you ask someone for permission to do something - and you don't need permission - and that someone refuses for a very good reason, it would be unethical to proceed. On the other hand, if you don't need permission, ask for it, and it is denied out of pettiness or spite, well then that someone is just being - as you put it - a "dick". In that case, I don't think it is unethical to proceed. In fact, I find it unethical to refuse without good reason.

Otherwise, polite people will allow their liberties, rights, however you want to term it, to be ruled over by dicks. I find that situation in and of itself unethical.

This is all fine and good, ... (Below threshold)
andre3000:

This is all fine and good, but don't you have better things to do, like posting nip-slip photos of tipsy bimbos?

Respectfully submitted, Andre3000.

No, by "hole" in your examp... (Below threshold)

No, by "hole" in your example I was referring to the fact that the US and the UK were trying to get the other members of the Security Council to go enforce a threat they had already authorized the previous fall, not to give permission for anything. The UN Security Council lacks the authority to give anybody permission to do anything. But again, this is neither here nor there in this context.

As for the actual topic of conversation here, I guess you just see it in more complicated terms than I do. If I were in Martin's seat, my course of action would be crystal clear: Don't be a dick.

Complicated? Boy I thought... (Below threshold)
Sean:

Complicated? Boy I thought I had it boiled down pretty simple - two factors. And as far as Martin is concerned, I suppose Jay had the same choice.

Don't get me wrong, I could care less if Martin quotes or doesn't quote from Jay. I just see it as an ethical question on Jay's part as to whether he will grant permission for a quote when reasonably requested or refuse just to make a point. And not even a very strong point.

The gist of my theorizing above is that it was unethical for Jay to refuse - because he had no good reason other than he decided he didn't like Martin. Now he wants to use that as some sort of "ethics stick" to bash Martin with.

Given that, I think Martin is well within ethical norms to ignore Jay's little "ethical test" and do whatever the hell he wants since Jay's permission was completely unnecessary, is completely unnecessary, and was withheld, from what I can see, out of spite.

Now, maybe I'm wrong. Lord knows I'm wrong often enough. Maybe Jay had a very valid reason for refusing. I just haven't seen any reason for such refusal that I would regard as valid.

Jay summed up his reasoning as "you never have a second chance to make a good first impression". Jay's post deals with his criticisms of Martin's information gathering techniques and, arguably, Martin's interpersonal skills (if you can call them that on a blog). To me that says permission was refused simply because Jay decided he didn't like Martin, making such refusal - in my opinion, anyway - unreasonable and therefore without any moral force.

Opinions will vary. Perhaps I'm just in a contrarian mood today.

Yeah, we just see it in dif... (Below threshold)

Yeah, we just see it in different terms. Which is totally okay, just different.

I see Jay's decision as being one entirely of his prerogative. His choice was neither ethical nor unethical, no more so than his decision of whether to have broccoli or cauliflower with his dinner.

Technically speaking, permission is never necessary. It's always possible to ignore somebody's refusal to give their consent. (Whether you'll succeed in overpowering them is another question, of course.) It's just that once a preference has been expressed, I think Martin's got a social obligation to respect that preference unless circumstances are really extenuating. "No, I'd prefer you didn't use my cell phone to dial 911" isn't the sort of preference I'm going to listen to. I'm going to punch you in the mouth, take your phone, call the ambulance and deal with the consequences later. But this clearly isn't that kind of situation.

But it's completely okay that we see things differently. This is really more of an exercise than anything. None of all the possible outcomes are going to have that much of an effect on anybody, as near as I can tell.

(Bottom line: I see a moral difference between the asker and the "askee." The "askee," in my opinion, is free to say no. Reasonable or unreasonable, he's got the right to decline. What matters is what the asker does in response to that refusal. You see it in different terms. This is good and fine.)

Very true. We are approach... (Below threshold)
Sean:

Very true. We are approaching this from different viewpoints. I disagree that permission is never technically necessary, but I approach that from a legality standpoint, not from whether you can or cannot succeed in overpowering (physcially or by other means) a refusal. If the request of "Can I borrow your car?" is refused, and such refusal is ignored, well - you're now in some trouble with the law. To me, a refusal to a situation where, legally, you need permission to do something, is completely different than a situation where you ask permission to be polite.

I think we agree on the whole reasonableness of the refusal, given your 911/cell phone example.

But you're right, this is just an exercise in semantics. But that's really all ethics is, what meanings do we attach to certain actions/behaviors - "good" or "bad".

The "askee," in my opinion, is free to say no. Reasonable or unreasonable, he's got the right to decline. What matters is what the asker does in response to that refusal.

Well put. Something to chew on in conjunction with my earlier hypothesis.

As an aside to Jay, whether I agree or disagree with your positions you, Kevin, and Paul will always have me coming back to see what you're thinking. It may not have been clear from the comments to this post, but I think you all do a great job here.

Sean wrote: "But that's rea... (Below threshold)

Sean wrote: "But that's really all ethics is, what meanings do we attach to certain actions/behaviors - "good" or "bad"."

If that is true, how then is ethics different from manners?

Perhaps I look at it differently being a female over a certain age, but to me this whole thing is more about manners than ethics, anyway.

Martin displayed very good manners by asking if he could quote Jay, when even decent manners do not require that he do this. This blog and what is written on it - posts and comments - are fair game for fair use. If they were not, the whole mechanism of blogging would sort of fall apart, wouldn't it?

I’m sure Martin’s ulterior motive was to gain cooperation, not only from Jay, but other bloggers. He further responded to Jay's complaints by either taking his suggestions to heart and making changes or explaining why he didn’t.

I don't think Martin wanted anyone else to do research for him. He didn't learn all there was to know about the blogging community and its unwritten rules of socially acceptable behavior before attempting to do further research on written rules of ethics for it. That's not exactly lazy, but it's not real bright either.

To promote further argument, er… conversation – I suggest that a female researcher would not have made the same mistake.

In my opinion as a professional teacher of manners (mother), Jay's responses to Martin lacked good manners, though he probably succeeded in giving Martin a lesson or two, I'm not sure it's the ones he intended. Martin probably will watch his grammar, spelling, and jargon more closely now, but what other lessons has he also learned about blogging and bloggers?

Jay - and now the entire blogging community - will not have another chance to make a "good first impression" on Martin. The refusal of permission doesn’t, in my mind, pose an ethical question for anyone but, perhaps, Jay.

Is it ethical to refuse to one person what everyone else retains a right to because you are offended by the way that person asked for your un-required permission? Is it ethical to take back something (which might not be yours to give in the first place) because you want to teach someone a lesson? Can the “without malice” phrase in the title be defended on ethical grounds?

Now, I’ve got to say here that although I’m disagreeing with just about everything Jay and Jeff are saying above - like Sean, I’ll still be reading what they write every day because both make me think. I sure hope they didn’t expect to always like what I think.

I hope I don’t come off sounding like a scold, either. That is definitely not my intention.




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