Home Who Owns All These Comments? You? Us? Someone Else?

Who Owns All These Comments? You? Us? Someone Else?

Hank Williams relates a story about one of Robert Scoble’s comments on FriendFeed being deleted after the author of the blog post he was commenting one removed his FriendFeed account. While the cynical response might be, “So one of the ten million comments Scoble leaves each day was delete — he’ll live,” it does bring up a valid point about content ownership. The blog owner was upset that his the discussion around his content was taking place outside of his blog, while Scoble was upset that content he created (and thus should own — right?) was removed without his permission. On an increasingly fragmented social web, who owns your comments?

Whenever someone leaves a comment on this blog, I think the assumption is that while we may not own the comment itself (we won’t try to stop you from posting it elsewhere), we at least have been granted full publishing rights to use it as we please. We’ve always reserved the right to republish comments in other posts (with attribution), as well as remove comments we felt were offensive or inappropriate.

But what if that comment is posted to FriendFeed or Digg? Now who owns it? Clearly, we have a lot less control over comments off of our web site, but should we be granted any rights to those comments at all? If the same comment had been made on the blog itself, we’d have probably looked at it as something we had full publishing rights to. Now that the comment is elsewhere, that’s less clear.

Wiliams also points out that hosted comment services, such as Disqus, muddy the issue further. Blogs using that type of system are only really republishing comments made to specialized comment aggregation pages on a third party service. It’s almost like publishing a feed of comments from Digg or FriendFeed. Commenters are generally given far more control over their comment when using Disqus than when using a built-in blog comment system. Systems like CoComment and Commentful that pull your comment stream into a single database similarly make things more complicated. Clearly, the idea there is that the commenter should be in full control of his or her comments.

“Since no blog platforms that I am aware of provide a mechanism for clarifying comment ownership rights, it seems to me that at best this issue is legally unclear, and at worst the site owner might only have the right to use and display the content in the very specific context in which the user placed the comment,” writes Williams. “So if, for example the blog owner wanted to use the comment on another site, or to reconfigure his blog in some substantial way, that might, theoretically require the permission of the commenter.”

This is an important issue, and as a commenter on Williams’ blog notes, it has implications about liability as well. If I slander someone on your blog, and you’re claiming ownership of my comment, where does the liability lie? What do you think? Who owns your comments? Does it matter where you leave them? We plan to sell the best comments on eBay and pocket all the profits (kidding!).

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