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Blogging mistakes, copyright violations and nasty comments

June 11, 2008

One’s blog is such a personal thing. I mean, whether a blog is a place which you use as a diary, or a place where you jot down random thoughts, or a place where your write about issues which concern you or a media which you use to help others or simply a place which you use as a platform to connect with people…it all depends on what you want from your blog and there is no right or wrong…because a blog is meant to set you free. It’s there to tell people who you are.

But if you make mistakes, whether with an inadvertent copyright violation, or by allowing abusive comments, or writing an abusive post…then there can be a price to pay.

Offensive comments
Even if it’s a comment which you have not written and it’s offensive to someone and that someone decides to persecute, the blog owner is liable. In fact here is an example of a blogger being sued for a comment left on his blog by someone else. Publishing a comment that is defamatory is similar to a newspaper publishing a defamatory letter…both the newspaper and the writer can be sued. A Blogger is Media.

In Europe or in the United States a blog owner can be hauled to court (alongwith the writer) over libelous comments left on his blog by others. And if those comments are written during work hours using the office computer, the company is liable as well!

In India we don’t have such stringent laws. In fact in India owners of communities/groups/blogs can get away scot-free if someone leaves a derogatory comment….for now. There is a recent example (link to this article was sent to me by Axinia) of a 22-year old Gurgoan techie (Rahul Krishnakumar Vaid) who was arrested for writing derogatory comments about Sonia Gandhi (Congress President) and Mahatma Gandhi on an orkut community called I hate Sonia Gandhi. He has been charged under section 292 of Indian Penal Code and section 67 of the Information Technology Act . In this case the owner of the community was not held liable as the laws in India seem to be different…but I wonder how long it will be before we too will frame internet laws like those in developed countries. Rules and laws pertaining to the internet have a penchant for spreading very quickly.

In any case, what is clear that it is best to delete derogatory comments about people. Even when you are writing a post about crimes committed by people and even if you are sure that you are right, use words like alleged, suspect, it seems or I feel – do not ever directly call anyone a criminal (make a statement) unless he is a convicted felon. If anyone leaves such a comment on your blog, best to delete it, even if you feel that the writer meant no harm.

And when it comes to addressing someone, a badly written comment (or a post) can give rise to a flame war if one allows it. Blogging etiquette is actually the same as etiquette in real life. You have to deal with each person as if that person is standing right in front of you, whether you write a comment, a blog post or you are answering a comment…as if you are looking that person straight in the eye…and if someone does cross the line, a blog owner is well within his rights to delete the comment. Too often rude bloggers are introverts in their personal life, afraid to face people and use the anonymity of the internet to shout and scream.

Timethief has given excellent advice in her post on “how to handle negative comments”. She writes:

The bottom line is that it is your blog and it’s your call. If you do not want nastiness posted on your blog then delete the comment and get on with your life…Providing a quality environment for the readers of our blogs is more important than giving a platform for a few people who don’t know how to play well with others. …

And the person to decide whether a comment is inflammatory or rude is you, the blog owner. If you make a mistake at times, don’t worry. We are all human.

Copyright violation
Another hot topic when it comes to blogging is copyright violation. The rules are the same as in print…one has to acknowledge the source of the the material. But acknowledging the source isn’t enough. If the exact words are used (or similar) then the matter needs to be in quotation marks or it becomes a copyright violation. Also, there is a limit on what you can quote…more than a paragraph and you are on dangerous ground even if the source is acknowledged.

If you quote someone, say a famous personality, the origin of the quote needs to be given.

Where taking permission is concerned, one doesn’t need it if one is taking a few lines from a post/article and that too for a non-commercial purpose, but to take the contents of the whole article without permission is plagiarism even if it is for a non-commercial purpose.

If you get an idea for your own blog post from someone else’s post, then it is best to acknowledge that with a link. This isn’t copyright infringement, simply etiquette. This also applies if you get hold of a useful link from a blog…you need to acknowledge the source. Again, just etiquette.

If your blog post is completely based on some article, then it is best to say so upfront. You can say that the post is a summary of the orginal (give the link) and then proceed to write it out in your own words, otherwise it’s a copyright violation.

Where photographs are concerned, again acknowledgment is necessary even if it is for non-commercial use.

The best and clear piece of writing that I came across on the internet on this subject is this – 10 Big Myths about copyright explained. The author, Brad Templeton gives some tips to owners of content as well. He explains that today you don’t need a copyright notice. The owner of the content can sue whether there is copyright notice on his content or not:

…in the USA, almost everything created privately and originally after April 1, 1989 is copyrighted and protected whether it has a notice or not. The default you should assume for other people’s works is that they are copyrighted and may not be copied unless you know otherwise…

Sure, a notice serves as a warning, but you can win a case anyway if you can prove that a certain material is yours. Templeton says something even more interesting. He says that if you use something from someone even on a non-commercial site, and this results in a financial loss to the owner of the content, then that party can claim compensation.

About ‘fair use” he has clearly said that a very limited amount of the work of another can be used, and that too with attribution.

Laws in India are probably different…but in India we do have fairly good intellectual property rights laws. If you can prove that something belongs to you, then a case can be made. There was also this recent case when film maker Rakesh Roshan had to pay Rs 2 crore to music director Ram Sampath because he had used his tunes in his film Krazzy 4 without acknowledgment or payment to Sampath. I am not sure what the laws on cyber copyright violations are in India though. I suspect they haven’t been framed because I couldn’t find anything. A person who has his online content stolen will have to use existing laws I think.

Related Reading: Blogosphere’s code of conduct
A major newspaper steals a blogger’s photograph
Job Hopping and Blogging Trends
The connection between hits and comments
The dark side of the internet

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35 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2008 8:25 pm

    Excellent post on the legalities of our cozy little blogsphere. I linked to it right away, so there’d be no messing about with quotation marks and summarizing. I wouldn’t want to start my Tuesday morning by getting sued : )

  2. June 11, 2008 8:33 pm

    Regarding comments I generally vent out my feelings on the government. I don’t know whether this amounts to offensive comment. Regarding copy right violations, in the last two months I came across two cases who copied my contents and published in their blogs. When I explained this violation in a decent way to them through email, they took corrective action.

  3. June 11, 2008 9:06 pm

    hmm….i sometimes write poems as comments,but do not acknowledge the post author,when i publish it in my blog….but well they never mind,for it is like an well opinion…might be i should link them from now on ..

  4. June 11, 2008 9:12 pm

    “Blogging etiquette is actually the same as etiquette in real life.”

    True enough, but as there is a lack of etiquette in real life so will there be in the blogosphere.

  5. June 11, 2008 10:41 pm

    Thanks Cymbria, Old Sailor, Vishesh and Mish! And can you believe it, some guy called Selvam has copied this very post on this blogger blog! Here:
    http://archivenews.blogspot.com/2008/06/blogging-mistakes-copyright-violations.html
    I wonder if he is right in the head because this post is about copyright violations! I told him that the blogger code of content
    ( http://www.blogger.com/content.g ) does not allow him to do it, and I hope he listens! This is the third case of a blogger from blogspot who has stolen my content in the last one month.

    Mish, yes ofcourse you are right! We get rude people in real life too but we can avoid them, unlike on the blogosphere!

  6. June 11, 2008 10:45 pm

    Thanks for this very useful post, Nita. But if we are supposed to use the word ‘criminal’ only for a convicted felon, then I guess the word criminal would find place only in a very, very few blogs. As we all know, the law punishes only those who are poor and marginalised. Those with plenty of money power and muscle power(notorious criminal goons) are sometimes involved in framing the stupid laws and executing them. They can get away with whatever they do as they know how to twist the laws to suit their own needs. So blogging is a tool to expose the crimes of such criminals. The ‘mainstream media’ are the ones who are afraid to face such criminals as they are either threatened by the goons or bought by them.

  7. June 11, 2008 11:17 pm

    Very informative and useful post indeed. I wonder if posts condemning the government or orthodox people and thoughts can be labeled as abusive? I mean what if someone comes out bit strong in their views then? The whole rule thing kind of contradicts the base line ..I quote u //it all depends on what you want from your blog and there is no right or wrong//…doesnt it? Btw how do u find out whose has stolen ur work..i mean like other bloggers not that HT thing.

  8. June 12, 2008 1:06 am

    The issue of free speech is different from defamation of character and is sometimes hard to tell the difference. Satire is a protected form of speech and so are opinions. A blog is not media no matter what some may claim.

  9. June 12, 2008 2:43 am

    an exellent post, Nita!
    These are the thing every blogger should know, that a lot for putting it together for us.

    And thanks for linking to me again🙂 Your blogging behaviour is always an example of an ethically correct blogger.

  10. vivek mittal permalink
    June 12, 2008 9:27 am

    Nita

    It’s very imformative post..thanks for it……..I dont know much about blogging, though once i made an unsuccessful attempt to start a blog….but later realised that it’s much easier to comment on other people’s blogs rather than to write a post myself🙂

    Now about comments…as you said the owner of a blog has the right to delete/edite offensive comments…BUT what about commentators……Can they delete/edit their own comments..as i wish sometimes

  11. June 12, 2008 9:38 am

    Hey Nita, as usual the best from the best. I had conducted a lot of workshops on the medical publications and had known and taught about these etiquettes as well as rules to many a people regarding medical publications. The same applies to other print and now blog media.

    Point well written and well taken.

    keep up the good work. shouldn’t be complimenting you eveytime… but can’t help it!🙂

    TC

  12. June 12, 2008 9:56 am

    Oh I forgot..I have added u on my blogroll under blogging gurus category😀 Blog on!!

  13. June 12, 2008 11:18 am

    Raj, it is not a question of who is a criminal or who isn’t. It’s a question of what the law allows us to say as a statement. The newspapers don’t want to be sued or soon they will have so many cases against them that they will have to shut down. Individual columnists can express their views, only if they say it’s a view and they have to be ready to face criticism. They cannot state anything as a fact until it is proved and that seems moral and ethical to me.
    One cannot forget that there are moral questions that can be raised here as who is a criminal or not. No harm in citing an opinion, as Brian said, a fine line between the two!🙂

    Reema, views are allowed. It’s like you can say things like it is my opinion, or I feel, or I believe…and then it’s fine. If you note that example I gave of the techie who was caught, the owner of the group was not because by law opinions are allowed. You can say I hate Sonia Gandhi and you cannot go against the law as it’s your opinion. However if you say that she is a criminal, a murderer etc, then you need to prove it with facts or you can be sued. There are again ethical issues here, about stating that someone is a criminal without any proof. You can however say that you think that X or Y is guilty of a crime because of such and such as long as you make it clear that it is your opinion only.
    And Reema, thanks for adding me to your blogroll.🙂

    Brian, ofcourse, opinions are free speech and people who express their opinions cannot be prosecuted by law. Satire too. About blogging as a media, I guess all blogs are not media…i

    Axinia, Sakhi, thanks.🙂

    Vivek M, you can always request the blog owner to delete a comment. In fact a commentator requested this of me a few months ago. He is from the U.S. I readily agreed. However it becomes difficult to delete a comment if there are several references to it by other commentators, because it means deleting their comments too.

  14. June 12, 2008 5:43 pm

    Hi, Nita,
    very useful info for a newbie blogger like me. Thanks. The length of quotes worries me. I’ll also have to check some of the pictures I have inserted, where ‘fair use’ is too vague, lol.

    One thing (no problem if you can’t answer): since I, well, most of us, publish our blogs in American WordPress in English, I guess we are under the USA law, more than our country’s.
    For example, what Brad Templeton says can be true for the USA, much less for Italy, where technically for an Italian it would be much easier to steal one’s writings and get away with it, unless one has a legal copyright notice.

    All the best

  15. June 12, 2008 11:05 pm

    Excellent POST nita. I hope ppl would think twice before copying content again. (I dont anymore, as I went thru the comments😀, copyright article copied??? wow )
    I guess it our nature to copy things. We copy academic projects, copy articles for our college annual book, copy seminar reports and online? copy other blogs and posts.

  16. June 13, 2008 7:41 am

    Man of Roma, you are welcome. About pictures, I think taking a picture from a news site is okay (with acknowledgment) if we using it for a non-commercial purpose. But taking a photo from a photographer’s site without his permission is taboo as his photo is a work of art, and something he could make money from. And what you mentioned about wordpress being subject to US laws is absolutely right! Well, that’s what I think anyway.

    Xylene, I guess all of us have made mistakes when we started out. But a willingness to correct oneself is the main thing. Those who know and still copy irritate me!🙂

  17. June 13, 2008 10:07 am

    Um, will I be sued for using that unknown cute girl’s photo on my blog? Gulp… Please advice!!😮
    Hehehe…

    you could be sued but not for copyright violation, but for violation of privacy! Laugh on!!😀 – Nita.

  18. June 13, 2008 4:55 pm

    If your blog post is completely based on some article, then it is best to say so upfront. You can say that the post is a summary of the orginal (give the link) and then proceed to write it out in your own words, otherwise it’s a copyright violation.

    I don’t think reviews and summary in one’s own words is a copyrighted violation. For novels and stories, probably summary in one’s own words can be considered as copyright violation. But, in all other cases, I don’t think it would be copyright violation.

    Acknowledging one’s work does not grant permission to use the work. So, if the owner has right to sue for writing the summary, he/she will still have the right to sue, even if you link to their original article, and acknowledge it.

    Yes I agree Satish. For an article it will not be a copyright violation. However as you said, it’s not always the right thing to do, unless you simplify and condense large reports. In fact it is unethical to really summarize someone’s work without that person’s permission, unless you are adding some value to it by way of analysis, and simplification of a large body of work. – Nita.

  19. June 13, 2008 10:29 pm

    Thaz a pretty good post. Unless people give a link back how many times u can keep looking how ur post or poems are violated u know. But if violated actions are always taken.

    pria, thanks. i agree it’s a pain to keep checking all the time. mostly I don’t bother but what I do nowadays is try and give a link to at least one of my old posts in the new one (in the text I mean) so that I get a link back. – Nita.

  20. June 14, 2008 4:45 pm

    One of the most relevant posts in recent times. Some of the points were shocking, like a blogger can be sued for a comment left by someone else.
    Thanks for the insight.

    I was quite taken aback too when I first read that! – Nita.

  21. June 16, 2008 6:19 am

    Very interesting post Nita. I didn’t know that I can be held liable for bad comments left on my blog! I wonder why Rediff is not charged for the nasty comments that people leave in their forums/discussion sections.

    RE: Cyber Copyright Violations= There is an Information Technology Act, 2000 in India and is fully enforceable. But the thing with cyber laws is that the jurisdiction is alway debatable. IT Act needs to be read along with the Indian Criminal Code.

    Thanks Ruhi. I agree about Rediff, they have horrible comments there and I don’t know why someone doesn’t delete them! I think no one has bothered to charge them as yet…if someone does, they are in trouble! If a guy was arrested after leaving a comment on a discussion group on sonia gandhi I guess anything can happen! But I guess someone (I mean govt.) was monitoring that discussion because of it’s title. – Nita.

  22. June 16, 2008 12:28 pm

    Thats a very interesting post Nita. After reading your post, I have decided to delete some comments from my blog, which earlier I had decided not to…

    Nova, glad to hear that! No point letting nastiness pervade one’s blog! And when you commented I remembered the meme! I had forgotton it! Tomorrow for sure! I think I will quite enjoy doing it. – Nita.

  23. June 19, 2008 11:13 pm

    The law regarding comments is actually a bit dicey: if your Terms of Service clearly say that you allow unmoderated comments, that you bear no responsibility, and if you remove nasty comments once they’re brought to your notice, you generally won’t be held liable.

    The picture changes, however, if your comments are moderated: if you choose to take on the responsibility of not allowing nasty comments, then you will be liable if any appear.

    The result is that absurdly enough, the less care you take, the less liable you are.

    This is, however, drawn from case law in other jurisdictions: I’m not sure if India has any yet.

    Thanks Nandita. That was helpful. I had no idea that a disclaimer like that could perhaps work in a court of law in America. Ofcourse it would also mean that nasty people would be encouraged to send nasty comments on a site with such a disclaimer and protest if their comment was deleted. A comment policy reduces nasty comments drastically. That is what I have noticed in my experience at least.
    In India they go more by applying real life laws…for example only the person who makes the defamatary comment/speech is held liable in court. However, the Indian government has tried and succeeded in getting certain websites/groups banned and also removed by complaining to the webhost. I am not sure how they managed to do that, under what law. We don’t have elaborate cyber laws here yet but I guess we will soon, and we could go the way of cyber laws in other countries. What I would like to know is if we, on wordpress blog, are subject to American law or Indian law? – Nita.

  24. June 20, 2008 1:13 pm

    Interesting question.

    As I understand it, there would be two different agreements.

    One between you and and WordPress i.e. the Terms of Service.

    That agreement is governed by US law. As far as the choice of forum is concerned, there seem to be three aspects, briefly: (a) access to / use of the site at a San Francisco court, (b) ToS disputes by specified arbitrators and (c) injunctions, IP claims at any competent court.

    The ToS does not speak of what law applies to the IP claims and I suspect that it arguable since all IP remains with authors so it may not automatically be treated as part of the site.

    However, the ToS is a boilerplate contract so presumably it could be challenged in an Indian Court which probably wouldn’t be too useful since in the absence of unconscionability etc., Indian Courts are not over enthu about interfering with choices of law or fora.

    The Second would be between you and your visitors.

    In such a case, you could be the one to impose a standard contract saying that their use of your blog is governed by so-and-so law. Or that all disputes in relation to it are to be settled at such-and-such place.

    If you do not have such an agreement, if a case was to be filed, it could be done wherever the cause of action was to arise. Obviously. The country where it was filed would generally apply its own law. Any court could choose to override your ToS. The only thing the ToS would do is give you much firmer ground to stand on while arguing your case.

    The bottomline is that there’s nothing to stop anyone from filing anything anywhere. The best you can hope for if that happens is that the case gets thrown out in a hurry.

    Consider a case where a third party were to sue for a nasty comment about him. WordPress would probably have to be sued in the US. You could theoretically be sued in India. Or both of you could be sued wherever the comments were viewed and the damage was done (although an Australian Court refused to allow a plaintiff to sue in such circumstances in Australia a while ago because of a ToS which said that all disputes must exclusively be settled in the US).

    As far as being liable is concerned, I suspect that you’re speaking of criminal liability. Defamation in India is both a criminal offence and a civil wrong, and there is nothing to stop someone from suing you. And if he / she showed that your actions / inaction contributed to the defamation, presumably, that person would be awarded damages.

    Case law is still emerging and statutory law is woefully inadequate at the moment.

    That being said, I’m not into cyber law (and am super sleepy at the mo.) so it’s entirely possible that I’ve missed out on things.

  25. shelly permalink
    June 11, 2010 7:43 pm

    And, do not forget to check your contents for probable copywrite violation; because you can not get good ranking for your page on different search engines, if it contains any sort of plagiarism. You can check them with AAfter Search. You need to paste your document in the search box as follows *** and click the web search button. The search engine gives the result in the form of percentage of similarity between the original document and re-written document so that one comes to know about possible copyright violation, if any.

  26. March 31, 2012 2:44 am

    there is an online war fare going on at two blogs and I am quoting few lines from copyright violation in my comment. hope thats okay. I have given the link to this post in my comment.

    • March 31, 2012 8:29 am

      Reema, the two lines that you posted were all that appeared. You did not post any link. I checked the spam box, but your comment is not there either.

      • March 31, 2012 1:41 pm

        actually my comment is in moderation over at IHM’s blog (dont know if u know her)..she hasnt allowed my comment yet..sigh! anyway here are the two blogs http://pallavipoojary.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/20-reasons-why-i-love-being-a-girl/ and http://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/what-would-you-have-done-2/

        My comment was : Hmmm read comments both here and there… I stay away from any such online war fares but felt the need to comment in this case. Few have accused that you disallowed his/her comments on your blog just because he/she supported her. I don’t know if its true or not but I just hope you publish my comment in the spirit of blogging. I am late but this hullabaloo which I missed in its peak deserves my two cents I feel.

        # 1 I dont think some bloggers taking your side and defending you saying things like; I quote “First gain that kind of stature and then make accusations”, is a good thing. Is there some sort of stature game in blogosphere? Some hierarchy where bloggers with fewer hits and less popularity can’t speak against the upper layer ones? That is really sad to hear from whom I believed to be sensible persons! There are people in this vast universe of blogs who don’t know you or me! That doesn’t mean they are worthless! One sided readership is bad..one needs to hear from both sides to develop as a blogger and readers becoming blind fans is dangerous and unhealthy for blogging. I think every blogger can fight his or her own battle and doesn’t need someone to speak for them.

        # 2 I take blogging seriously, as an actual activity and not any pastime and hence believe it is governed by some basic rules and etiquette. Speaking from the blogging point of view, AND NOT TAKING ANY SIDE, though your intention was good as you say, the means to carry it out was wrong technically. You don’t need to care about hurting anyone. You should just go ahead and link and then dissect. Blogging does comprise of analysing and criticizing others’ posts.(many just get away by saying “nice post”) but its necessary to follow the copyright rules and net etiquette.

        As my blogging guru Nita [https://nitawriter.wordpress.com/2008/06/11/copyright-violations-and-nasty-comments/] says and I agree wholeheartedly and quote “Where taking permission is concerned, one doesn’t need it if one is taking a few lines from a post/article and that too for a non-commercial purpose, but to take the contents of the whole article without permission is plagiarism even if it is for a non-commercial purpose. If you get an idea for your own blog post from someone else’s post, then it is best to acknowledge that with a link. This isn’t copyright infringement, simply etiquette. This also applies if you get hold of a useful link from a blog…you need to acknowledge the source. Again, just etiquette.”
        And even for quoting this here, I informed her though she is out of blogging since a long time.

        You may also like to read http://www.templetons.com/brad/copymyths.html
        http://w2.eff.org/IP/eff_fair_use_faq.php

        • March 31, 2012 2:54 pm

          Hi Reema,
          I haven’t read the blog posts in question, but I am sure IHM didn’t mean anything by it. I know IHM’s blog and I know she is a very straightforward person. In my opinion I think she didn’t want to start a war, and that is why she did it. Unfortunately this didn’t work. As I do not know the other blogger, I cannot comment on her reaction.
          Also whether to allow comments or not on one’s blog is a very personal decision. If readers feel that a blogger is unfairly removing comments they might stop reading her. One of the reasons why IHM has survived for so long is that she is fair.

          • March 31, 2012 2:59 pm

            About Pallavi’s post, I think I understand why she was offended. I just read her post, and I think she was not that serious while writing it, but IHM took her seriously. This happens often in the blogosphere. Unless one is used to reading a certain blog, one can mistake its tone, or misunderstand the person.

            • March 31, 2012 3:06 pm

              yes I know that about IHM being fair. I read her too. But many have accused regarding this issue. lets see…my comment is in moderation still. Also I think the other blogger’s reaction is justified as her link should have been mentioned..IHM took her entire post and dissected it. Linking wouldnt have started anything..accusation of plagiarism and jumping in of IHM’s fans started this whole drama. anyway the point was that I hope u dont have problem me quoting few lines from your post in my comment?

              • March 31, 2012 3:16 pm

                Not at all Reema, although I think my comment policy was a general one, and not relevant to this situation exactly. This situation is rather unique, and doesn’t really cover the “dissection” part. I think IHM must have realised that too, and is thinking whether to publish it. I just hope I don’t get embroiled in this issue!

              • March 31, 2012 3:20 pm

                Frankly, I have been in this situation that Pallavi faced. Once a post of mine was dissected exactly like that, and completely misunderstood. A blogger doesn’t know you, these things happen. I was very upset I remember. What helped was the blogger was unknown and hardly anyone read her!🙂

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