Friday, June 03, 2005

Meta-Blogging 9. Thinking Through the Legalese of the Brave New Blog

Usually, when a blog moves to Scoop is when I stop commenting.

I used to comment on Tacitus--minimally, but here and there--but the switchover forced me to join what was clearly designed to become a more closed community. I actually tried to join once, but the responding email seems to have gotten lost in the ether, and I wasn't too sad about it, having discovered the much superior beta site, Obsidian Wings.

Kos I never joined, although I've read threads now and then. The threads have a tendency to degenerate rapidly into Eschatonian shouts-out, although some of the major diarists are doing some serious writing. Of course the community power of both these sites is extraordinary--what I once argued could be called the "demotic" voice of blogging.

The Scoop format is, of course, in tension with the demotic: Scoop requires continuity of posters' voices, while the demotic is necessarily anonymous and fleeting. Since Eschaton is still non-Scoop, its threads seem still to reflect some of this open suddenness, but there is a core group of commentors who dominate discussions.

And this is what I think is happening to the blog world: commentors are no longer quite so freely giving their comments. Rather, the whole online world is beginning to understand that a screen name is a kind of property and that familiarity and continuity of that name confer value on that property. While so much has clearly been true of sites for awhile (see Blogshares!), the increasing switchover of blogs into the Scoop format suggests that commentors themselves are also thinking in this fashion--because they accept, and often welcome, the restraint.

I am not so hoary an internet user as, say, Gary Farber, but my general sense is that there have always been closed boards and online celebrities. One can be a celebrity in a closed board by sheer persistance. This is the version that Scoop favors. In this version of online celebrity, I can, for example, go to Collounsbury's LiveJournal, where one Eerie has a privileged relationship with the host, posts comparatively content-free material, and yet is a friendly, familiar, and comforting presence. And then, one can be an online celebrity by opening up posts and a life to all comers or by roaming freely (and smartly) across the internet savannah. Praktike, just to take one example of a 2004 Koufax commentor semi-finalist, has made him or herself a celebrity by simply showing up and writing a one-line, sound comment, simply everywhere (including Collounsbury's blog).

All this commentary is prolegomena to my admitting that because I've become so used to being able to comment (not that I always or even usually do) on Matt Yglesias's blog that I actually registered on the TPMcafe.

Now, I could have commented anonymously, as I usually do on LiveJournals, maybe signing with my handle, but, if the past is to be any predicator, not. But this time, I figured, perhaps out of boredom, procrastination, or narcissicism, I figured I'd go for it. Perhaps I was swayed by hilzoy's post lauding the new launch. In any event, I've registered my handle and link back here.

In the package comes a TPMcafe-hosted blog. I didn't ever really think I'd try to move my admittedly slim archives and readership over there, but the registration user agreement would have pulled that idea up awfully short had I ever considered it.

And now we (finally) get to the title of this post. I have never seen a site that had such a careful, lawyer-crafted registration agreement, and I would really like to hear from any readers (granted, already a small population) who have a longer and broader experience with such matters.

So, on the form for new users (which for me, as a registered user, is no longer accessible), one finds a very official Terms of Use agreement, which includes the following:

2. COPYRIGHT.
The content displayed on TPMCafe, including the selection, arrangement, and design ("Content") is the property of TPM or its licensors, and is protected by copyright and other intellectual property laws. The Content may be used only for your personal and non-commercial use and may not be edited or modified for any purpose. By accessing TPMCafe, you agree not to reproduce, retransmit, distribute, disseminate, display, sell, publish, broadcast or circulate the Content to anyone, except that you may occasionally reproduce, distribute, display or transmit an insubstantial portion of Content, for a noncommercial purpose, to a limited number of individuals, provided you use the phrase "Used with permission from TPMCafe.com, a service of TPM Media LLC." All rights not expressly granted herein are hereby reserved.

TPM does not claim ownership of the Content you submit or make available for inclusion on TPMCafe. The Content is the property of the author of such Content. You agree to grant TPM a perpetual, royalty-free and irrevocable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, sublicense, create derivative works from, transfer, and sell such Content in any format now known or hereafter created, and to use your name and other identifying information you provide in connection with that Content. You also permit any visitor or member of TPMCafe to use such Content for personal use as described above.

If you believe in good faith that any Content infringes your copyright, you may send us a notice requesting that the material be removed though we cannot guarantee that any action will be taken as a result of your correspondence.
Lawyers would be better at parsing this material than I, but from a layperson's perspective, it seems clear that not only do the comments become largely proprietary of the host, but the blog content would, as well. What content that a subordinate blogger would like to use in a commercial sense would have to be granted by (or perhaps eventually purchased from) TPMcafe.

This system seems familiar to me from the acknowledgement pages of books--"I am grateful to the PMLA for permitting me to reproduce material from my earlier article"--formulae which obscure financial transactions and legal claims. Granted, academic journals are hardly sweatshops; granted, TPMcafe is attempting an interesting synthesis of demotic blogging and policy-wonk journalism; still, there's something simultanously faux-populist and elitist about this set-up that puts me rather off. Needless to say, I won't much be using my free blogging space on TPMcafe.

Perhaps this Terms of Use agreement is the sign of a tipping-point that had occured a little while ago. Bloggers are interviewed--although not as regularly cited--in the professional press. More and more bloggers are living off their salaries or ad-incomes. It's becoming clear that the "blog" has become the online way of thinking that connects experts, old-skool online users, and amateurs. The basic form--or genre--of the blog seems rather sturdy, while the formats--registration, comment software, site-organization--are still in flux. The TPMcafe is trying to straddle the line between publicness and carefulness, and I think its legalistic attempts to manage its very openness is a sign of the faultlines inherent in the increasing popularity of the blogosphere.

2 Comments:

Blogger Antonio Hicks:

I was just browsing various blogs as I was doing a search on the word poster, and I just wanted to say that I really like what you've done with your blog, even though it wasn't particularly related to what I searched for. I appreciate your postings, and your blog is a good example of how a blog should be done. I've only just recently started a Posters website - feel free to visit it when you get a chance if you wish. Much success, antonio.

11/09/2005 05:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous:

sent Straight to your Inbox for your Convenience, you wont have to Search the Internet day after day...

11/10/2005 10:14:00 PM  

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