Quick: if you’re part of a mailing list and there’s a splendid discussion, a really informative back and forth dialog that transpires, can you copy and paste both sides of the discussion on your weblog without requesting permission?
This very topic arose on the LinkedIn Bloggers mailing list — a list that has some minimal member requirements and closed list archive — and generated what I thought was a surprisingly wide range of answers.
I spent some time on list trying to clarify my own thoughts on this matter, detailing where I believe it’s acceptable to quote others without permission and when I believe it’s imperative that you seek and receive permission before quoting even a single sentence. I’d like to include my thoughts here on my weblog too, for more general reference purposes and to hopefully spawn some dialog on this topic too.
The discussion started out with the following question…
“I presume everyone agrees that you have a right to post a conversation to a blog entry [where you were one of the participants]. How do you handle the other person’s part of the conversation? Do you ask permission? Do you attribute? Do you notify them?”
Here’s my response:
If I encounter a cogent comment in a public venue, I believe that it’s acceptable use to excerpt or quote that comment – with credit and a back link – on my own weblog.
If the comment was in a private venue, such as this mailing list, I always privately email the author and request permission to quote them on my weblog.
This is true across the many, many lists I’m on, and I’m 100% about this, every time. Every so often someone says that they’d prefer I don’t and I’m good to my word: I just delete my draft posting and come up with a different topic.
I think that this is where professionalism and trust are so important. If we can’t rely on everyone on LinkedInBloggers (or any other mailing list) to respect the privacy of our venue, well, then some of us aren’t going to be quite so forthcoming in what we’re sharing, and others might just leave directly.
On some of the very best lists I’m involved with there’s a written agreement that makes quite explicit the privacy of the discussion with a zero tolerance for mistakes. One list in particular, focused on Internet-based entrepreneurs, is the cornerstone of my digital work in many ways, and it’s less than 75 people. I’ve seen more than one person kicked out of the group for violating this strict community behavioral standard and I appreciate our strict guidelines which foster a terrific sense of openness.
Having said all of that and waved my SuperBloggerPomPomstm I have to admit that I also recognize that inspiration and ideas come from just about anywhere and it’s unrealistic to ask permission for everything you encounter, even on private lists. What I’ll do, however, is reinvent what someone’s saying rather than using the dubious “A fellow blogger” or similar.
I had an example of this arise this very evening, actually; in a message on a very different topic, an exceedingly bright colleague of mine casually contrasted “bloggers” with “business people who blog” and that’s really sparked some ideas in my head that I’m working on capturing digitally.
But even then, even with just a single sentence inspiring me, I still took the time to email him back, saying “A superb differentiation: bloggers versus “business people that blog”. Let me rattle that around, I might write about that on my weblog, in fact…” to which he replied “blog away!”
To summarize, I suggest that a good community guideline for the blogosphere is that even if the mailing list archives are open and public, and even if the mailing list is open to any and everyone, it’s a good habit and nice touch of professionalism to always contact the authors whose material you seek to republish, requesting permission to do so.
Oh, and there’s a nice secondary benefit too: sometimes you can open up an extraordinary dialog with the other party that can lead to a deeper appreciation and even the possibility of joint projects. I’ve had both happen during the past year.
The basic rule I’m proposing is easy to remember: respect the right of other list members to own their words and always act accordingly.