Of blogs, publicity and privacy

30.04.2005Osebno

There has been a live and very passionate debate on BeeBee`s blog about the privacy and publicity of blogs, what and how blogs can be published and whether the publication of a certain blog (or a part of it) violates any rules.

The issue has two approaches. One approach from the point of copyright law and one from the point of publicity and privacy. I shall start with the latter.

Bloggers are not public figures. Public figure, according to the slovene jurisdiction, is a person who performs a public function, is appointed by the public or is performing their duty in plain public view. The banal definition is that public figure needs the public just like the public needs them. Bloggers are not public figures because they do not write to be heard. They write because they want to. If you read this carefully, you`ll see that bloggers do not fall under any category. They are not appointed by the public, they are not performing a public function and they are most certainly not obliged to do anything. Everything they do is of their own free will, they are merely expressing their opinions. Although internet is defined as a public space and therefore everything that goes on on the internet is public, there exists a fine line of personal privacy that every user of internet has. It`s illegal for a company to use tracking cookies, it`s illegal for a person or a company to spy on a user without authorization and it`s illegal to use any information found on the internet and treat it like it does not belong to anyone. Public place does not automatically mean that everything is there for the taking. Easy and speedy access does not mean that everything is free and nobody has any oversight. Everything that exists on the internet is there because somebody thought it would be a good idea to put it up there. Only special “parts” of the internet, labeled “no rights reserved” are there for the taking. The rest of it is copyright or some rights reserved.

Personal data like name, surname, place of schooling and others are protected by the rule of one`s privacy. Publishing this data can only occur with the consent of the owner of that data. You cannot publish anybody`s name if the owner of that name does not agree with it (not required if the person is a public figure which bloggers are clearly not). Even if that data is already published (for example in a phone book, yearbook…) it does not mean that the data is free for the taking and that everybody can use it as they like. Every publication must occur with the consent from the owner. If that consent is not given, then you are violating that person`s privacy.

Blogs are copyrighted work. Or in some cases some rights reserved. They are not there for everybody to just copy off everything they can get their hands on and treat it like it`s free and open for everybody. Writing a blog does not mean that you are inviting everbody to copy and distribute and use the information any way they please. Especially to do so without your knowledge. Bloggers are not public figures and they have privacy. Just because something is published on the internet, does not mean it`s automaticaly free and open for everybody.

The issue with the BeeBee`s blog is also the personal data question. Publishing the name and surname of the blogger when that name is not explicitly given by the author herself, is a really dumb thing to do. The journalist claims that he got it from a careful read of her blog and that she posted that name herself. The real questions is…who is she in reality? If the journalist did not bother to contact the “real” person behind the blog, the name and surname, published on blog are irrelevant. For all I care, I can say my name is anything I choose to be, but that does not necessarily make it true. Reading a blog and thinking that just because things are published, anybody can use it and everything is true, is the stupidest thing on the planet…and potentially dangerous. Any journalist who does not double- or triple-check the information they got, is a dumb one. And just copying the information off a blog and thinking that`s enough to compose a picture of the writer of that blog is lame. Very lame. Almost like looking at a photo and thinking that by doing that you know the guy who took it. Publishing verbatim parts of someone`s blog without prior consent is a violation of their copyrights. The first part is a violation of the ethics code, the second a violation of the law. Either way, writing the way Nikolaj Pečenko does and saying that just by blogging you are trying to get people`s attention and gain power and influence (one of the rules that allows the journalist to publish personal data about a person) is downright stupid and offensive.

Private is everything that is not labeled public. And not the other way around. Talking on the phone in public is private. Talking to a friend in public is private. Blogs are public and they are being read by thousands (ah, humble wishes) of readers, but they are however, copyrighted works and the reproduction can only occur with the consent of the author.

If we analyse the last comment by Nikolaj Pečenko in which he first claims that public is everything that is not protected by a password and two paragraphs later changes his mind and says that everything, including the sites where you have to pay to gain entrance (by getting the access code) are public, we can see that things are far from clear. For how long? Only time will tell. In the mean time, be sure to slap on a CC licence on your blog. Just to be safe.