I really don’t have anything new to add to the discussions that have been going on all over WordPress.com and elsewhere about the new “Like/Reblog” utility that was introduced this week other than to say that besides the legitimate copyright and fair use concerns this utility raises, in my opinion there was a total misunderstanding, even mishandling, by WordPress.com to the reaction by concerned users.
It is correct that U.S. Copyright law allows use of a portion of a copyrighted work for “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research” without the permission of the copyright holder.* “Fair Use” is balanced by four factors which mitigate what is considered “Fair Use” of a particular work. (For what it’s worth, CC Licenses are not covered by “Fair Use” but rather by the license chosen and its provisions.) The argument by WordPress.com that the “Like/Reblog” utility does nothing more than allow WordPress.com users to auto-post a snippet and cite another WordPress.com blog in a manner consistent with “Fair Use” may or may not be technically correct, but it’s missing the point. The issue now is about perceived control of one’s content and its dissemination. (Please see my comment below.)
What has lost WordPress.com major PR points and rankled many users is their peremptory imposition of the Reblog feature and high-handed replies to voiced concerns. Even if the Reblog feature, like the “Press This” bookmarklet before it, is nothing more than implementing a fact on the ground, it would be a major win for WordPress.com to allow users to opt-out of having the “Like/Reblog” button appear in Admin bar on their WordPress.com site. A user in the forum discussion on Reblogging has shown just how easy it is to disable this button using CSS. (Updated June 10th to note that the forum post has been modified to remove the CSS snippet with a warning that “modifying the admin bar like this is grounds for suspension”.)
Permitting users to opt-out of Reblog tells WordPress.com users, “We respect your right to control your content”. That is the biggest win of all and, in my opinion, one that WordPress.com should seriously consider.
(This post does not cover the splogging aspect of Reblogging nor the legitimate concerns regarding the watering down of WordPress.com content because of it.)
Is WordPress.com’s product so compelling that users will eventually accept the new paradigm or will users move away to other platforms? Will WordPress.com offer an opt-out option or will they just wait until the firestorm of user protest dies out and continue business as usual? My guess is most of the above.
*Update June 8th to note that the Fair Use provision also states the following:
The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission.
Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.
This contradicts the general consensus and the basis on which the Reblog utility seems to be founded, that it is not necessary to obtain permission of the person who holds the copyright to the work being copied.