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, 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.

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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.


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