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January 12, 2009

Tweetbacks, Copyright and Scraping

Yesterday, a friend of mine on Twitter sent me a DM to alert me about a what she said “looks like aTwitter scraping tool”. I clicked the link expecting to find a social aggregator gone awry or a spam blog. However, instead, the link instead pointed to Joost de Valk’s new Tweetback plugin.

The plugin, as well as Dan Zarella’s plugin by the same name, searches Twitter to for tweets that link back to posts on the blog and displays those tweets on the site under their respective entries, much like a trackback, but with Twitter (hence the name).

These plugins do, by their very nature, copy and paste tweets, displaying them on the user’s Web site, all without the explicit permission to of the author. Where trackbacks are sent from the linking site and comments are left intentionally by the visitor, these plugins are different in that they activelhy go out in search of these “tweetbacks” (including parsing URL shortening services), even though the creator has taken no steps to ensure they appear on the site.

This, in turn, raises serious issues about copyright, scraping and more that have to be at least looked at. Is it legal to copy and publish tweets from others without permission, simply because they link back to your site? The answers are not as simple as one might initially think. read more

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January 5, 2009

5 Lesser-Known Benefits to Creative Commons

Bloggers use, and don’t use, Creative Commons Licenses for a variety of reasons. Some feel that it is a great way to give back to the community, others use CC licensing as a form of promotion, encouraging their content to be used with attribution, and others feel that it is a way to promote copyright reform.

However, Creative Commons can actually provide bloggers benefits that go well beyond the buttons and badges. In the uncertain copyright climate of the Web, having a firm lawyer-written license, regardless of what it says, can have huge benefits over the ambiguity that comes with not having one.

Here are just five less-promoted ways that choosing a CC license can help you, your site and your content, even as you surrender some of your rights in a particular work. read more

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December 8, 2008

When Does Social Media Copying Go Too Far?

Yesterday, on CenterNetworks, Allen Stern reported on a new social news site, Social|Median. The story, however, didn’t center around Social|Median’s features or capability, but instead on how, according to Stern, it “take(s) content from around the Web, put it onto Socialmedian and let you comment about it.”

Though I did not see any widespread copying of content on the links that I checked (example), it appears that the amount of content copied in the snippet is determined by the user posting the link, not the site.

Still, it is clear that there has to be a balancing act between social media and content creators. Though social news sites need to use some of the content and conversation from the blog in order to properly function, if they take too much, there is nothing left to encourage content creators to participate or permit their works to be used.

Finding this balance is tricky and has been a problem that has plagued social news sites since the beginning. Many sites have faced criticism for “scraping content” or “fragmenting the conversation” and the concern remains at the top of mind of many Webmasters, especially when dealing with new social news sites that do not drive significant traffic.

So how should social news behave? The last is not very clear but the standards on the Web seem to have spoken to at least some degree. read more

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December 1, 2008

Flickr Alternatives for Copyright-Conscious Photographers

Flickr has been in the spotlight a good deal recently, but a lot of it has not been good news. It has been revealed that Flickr, like Facebook, strips out copyright metadata from uploaded images. Combined with a confusing API, licensing scandals, companies selling photos as cell phone backgrounds and more, it is easy to see why some are skittish about keeping their images on the site.

This has some photographers, bloggers and artists uneasy about using Flickr or at least using the site exclusively. Many have begun seeking alternatives to Flickr but alternatives seem to be thin. Though image hosts such as Photobucket exist and are great for embedding images into other sites, they lack the sense of community that Flickr provides and, in the case of Photobucket, can raise copyright issues of their own.

So what other sites are there for photographers and artists that might fulfill some or all of Flickr’s function while providing a slightly better copyright environment? There are actually many, but here are three of the more important ones to watch. read more

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November 24, 2008

WordPressDirect: Blogging Tool or Spam Engine?

A recent post on Mashable regarding a tool called WordPress Direct elicited a great deal of passion on both sides. One commenter, for example, called the service a “one stop shop spam blog engine” while another, who claims to have used the service, said it was “a simple solution to adding new posts to a blog in between longer, hand written posts”.

But what is clear is that tools like WordPress Direct are becoming more and more common. Part of the double-edged nature of open source development is that, while most will use the license to extend the product in healthy ways, a few will do so in ways that can be used for unethical purpose. Though this is not an argument against open source, more and more tools like WordPress Direct have sprung up, often charging high monthly fees for “maintenance free” blogging.

But what does WordPress Direct do and is it a spam tool? The answer is complicated and made more so by the fact that the nature of spam and even the definition of spam is a moving target. However, it is clear that WordPress Direct, along with similar products, have a lot of potentially dangerous uses and, if its marketing is any indication, those uses are very much by design. read more

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September 29, 2008

The Future of Blog Spam

When Steven Carrol of The Next Web admitted to using a content generation service known as Datapresser, reportedly after seeing it used by an unnamed author at TechCrunch, he seemed to indicate that it was the future of mainstream blog publishing.

But while there is no doubt that at least some mainstream blogs use content creation tools to aid in meeting their deadlines, content generation has found a much more comfortable home with another group, spammers.

Creating content from nothing has always been something of a holy grail for spammers. Traditionally, filling their junk blogs has required scraping content from article databases, other blogs (usually without permission) or other sources. This has made them easy for search engines to spot and also drawn the ire of many bloggers who have had their content reused.

But technology is advancing and content generation is becoming increasingly practical. Many spammers have already moved to it and it seems likely that others will follow soon. This has some strong implications for both the future of spam and the Web itself. read more

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