Bloggers Unite for Human Rights – Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press

Bloggers Unite

Today bloggers are asked to help raise awareness of human rights issues through the Bloggers Unite. 2008 is the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a landmark, yet often ignored, document. From it came the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and many other human rights conventions, human rights courts around the world, and awareness of abuses, and campaigns to fight these abuses.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

This is the Article that protects writers, journalists, and in the 21st Century, bloggers. Indeed, blogging perfectly captures the spirit of this Article. Blogging is the free exchange of opinion and imparting of ideas, across frontiers and without interference. Mostly.

I’m not going to go into the issues of access to blogs and the internet being blocked by some regimes, or the attempts to suppress the voices of bloggers. I support the Irrepressible Info campaign, which does a far better job of explaining this issue than I could.

Instead, I want to look at a very specific right of bloggers and writers, that flows from Article 19. Our right to hold opinions without interference implies ownership of our own ideas, of our words. It involves copyright. And it implies that others cannot take our words and use them without our permission.

Yet some feel they can. Shamefully, they are a group of people who benefit from the very protections of Article 19 that they flout. The mainstream media.

Please read this post by Zoe Margolis about reproduction of blog posts without permission or recompense by a national newspaper.

Blogger JonnyB discovered that the Mail on Sunday had lifted an entire blog post, word for word, and reprinted it without his permission.

The Mail on Sunday’s patronising response?

We generally take the view that blogs published on the internet have already been placed in the public domain by their authors and, in case of amateur writers, most people are happy to have their work recognised and displayed to a wider audience.

By this rationale, a large circulation newspaper is “in the public domain” as soon as it hits the stands. A book in a library is “in the public domain”. Where are the journalists and authors who will stand up and say “I would be happy with you reproducing my work without permission, as publishing is the same as putting something into the public domain”.

Where are they? They don’t exist. And as for the amateur writers jibe, firstly many bloggers are professional writers, but secondly is the Mail on Sunday claiming that amateurs are exempt from copyright law, and therefore fair game?

I think not. The basic human right of freedom of expression means you are free to control how your expression is used by others. Because if you lose that control (having your work reproduced, redistributed out of context, edited) then you may decide not to express yourself again, and in that way a control has been placed on your freedom. Your right to express yourself and hold your opinions has been interfered with.

I do not charge people for reading this blog. I am, for now, an amateur writer. But I do not tolerate plagiarism. Note the footer of my blog – I use Copyscape to protect my work. I also have a Creative Commons Licence to cover all of my output. Had this happened to me, would the Mail on Sunday have been in breach of it?

My Licence is a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. You are free to share, copy and distribute my work, without seeking my advance permission. But only under certain conditions:

  • Attribution – you must state that I was the author. In this case I presume the Mail on Sunday did so. This ensures you do not pass off the work as your own.
  • No Derivative Works – you put it in its entirety, or not at all. This is to prevent people editing as they please, re-interpreting the work etc. Much of the work on this site is creative fiction, so re-interpretation undermines my own work. I won’t let you do that. Again, as the lift was word-for-word in JonnyB’s case, the Mail on Sunday would pass this stage.
  • Noncommercial – I’m not making any money offering my expression to you, you can’t make any money from it either. The Mail on Sunday is a commercial newspaper. It’s use of other people’s work therefore cannot be anything other than commercial. As such, the Mail on Sunday would not have been allowed, under the terms of my Creative Commons Licence, to use my work.

Just because we choose to exercise our rights freely, does not mean that you are free to abuse those efforts. If a right is undermined for the little people, then soon that right erodes for the big people too. The press would do well to tread carefully around a right that is fundamental to their existence too.

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