A couple of years ago, I was contacted by someone working on a Darfur campaign about a blog post I’d written called “Can JP Morgan Handle its Human Rights Risk?” She wanted to run my post on the campaign site. The London Whale had just surfaced, and I took my lead from an editorial in the Wall Street Journal asking whether any one executive, even a great executive like Jamie Dimon, “can properly oversee such a large financial institution.” My post questioned the bank’s claim that it is capable of managing human rights risks in its complex portfolio of investments — which was the justification it had offered shareholders for rejecting a “genocide-free” investing proposal.
I’ve received a couple of other requests along those lines since I started blogging. Just yesterday, another organization asked if they could cross-post some of the things I’ve written about the Lake Superior mining boom.
Apparently, in my case, flattery will get you somewhere: I usually agree, as long as I am given credit, the post is reproduced in full, without alteration, and includes a link to this blog. It helps get my work in front of more people, usually people who are already invested in the issues I’m writing about. Besides, I could use whatever extra traffic it happens to generate – it’s not like I’m posting cat pictures or updates on cheerlebrities here — and I welcome whatever new connections and other intangible goods or just good vibes that may come out of it.
I’ve been thinking a little more this morning about these associations — how my writing has led to them and where they might lead my writing; whether this cross-posting might somehow or someday compromise me (for now, I’ve concluded, it doesn’t); and how it differs from, on the one hand, other forms of sharing (emailing links, tweeting, plus-ing or posting on the intellectual wasteland of Facebook, re-blogging, etc.) and, on the other, publication – whatever that means anymore.
I know that I would expect any publication, online or offline, to pay me for running something I’d written; but I’ve made exceptions there, too, so it really doesn’t come down to money, and I am not sure the ongoing debate about “writing for free” really applies here. Besides, most of the organizations doing the asking are run on a shoestring, and I’d be more likely to give them my money than to take theirs.
So maybe the writing is a kind of gift or donation, even if the IRS does not allow the deduction.
That seems like an argument for a soft form of copyright, intellectual ownership, where the writer either singularly or as a collective retains some rights over the text. Which does not necessitate copyright in the strict sense though it may mean that as well. Is that what your intending to argue?
I suppose that is where my remarks here are heading. I find Creative Commons licensing as well as Fair Use, etc. attractive, and I’ve certainly taken full advantage of both, but at the same time I am not ready to let go entirely of rights: for example, I want to retain full rights to my film; I’m stubborn there. But then there are other cases where I am much more flexible and some soft form of copyright, as you put it, suits me just fine. And I suppose I would argue not just for retaining some rights over the text but also for some discretion over its use and re-use. I think that probably means dealing with rights on a case by case basis rather than trying to apply some general rule.