If It’s Your Blog, Do You Own the Comments?
The internet is a living, growing entity and as such, it’s been hard for the legal community to keep up with law to cover all the eventualities pertaining to the internet. Additionally, it becomes difficult for an ordinary internet user to know what the laws are, to keep from breaking one inadvertently, when ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law.
I recently ran across a news story talking about a lawsuit pertaining to an internet user who wrote a comment on someone’s blog. If I’m remembering correctly, the blog was on Myspace, but don’t quote me on that. The part I am sure about is that the user left a long comment on the blog, and then later turned around and used the information in the blog comment to write an article to sell for a fee. The user asked the blogger to remove the blog comment from the blog, so they could sell the article with full rights, and the blogger refused.
The legal question: who owns that blog comment?
While I’m sure the case included additional information, the question of who owns blogs comments was the central issue. So I pulled out my old legal books out and began searching through them and searching the internet.
Who Owns Blog Comments’ Copyright?
Copyright law indicates that any writing is immediately copyrighted to the person who wrote it as soon as it is put in a tangible, fixed form. This means anything written, even before it’s finished, is copyrighted up to the point of the last word typed or written. I own the rights to this piece of writing you are reading. That means I can choose exactly what happens to the writing, how it’s promoted, how I use it, where I put it, etc.
Now, that said, I can then choose to sell, give away, or transfer my rights to a website, another person, a publication, or I can license the rights so that people can use the writing under whatever specifications I create and they agree to prior to using the writing. Blog comments are writing. As such, they are copyrighted to the person making the blog comment.
The legal answer: blog comments are copyrighted to the person who does the commenting, not the blogger.
Unfortunately, this answers who holds the rights to the comment, but who actually owns the blog comment?
That’s when we have to dig a little deeper and look at the terms of service on the site at which the person who comments leaves the comment. Typically, most blog sites have the writer transfer publication rights only, meaning the person who uses the blog maintains their copyright and has the right, at any time they choose, to remove the content from the site and enforce their copyright. In other words, the blogger owns the blog writing, and the site only holds enough rights to visibly display (publish) the blog on their site. The blogger can remove the blog at any time they choose, because they own the writing on the blog.
The problem comes with blog comments, where the person who does the writing owns the copyright, but they do not maintain control of the blog or the comment to be able to remove it.
Sites like Blogger/Blogspot have created a solution that protects both blogger and commenter alike: the commenter can come back to any blog they have responded to and delete the comment, as long as they were logged in at the time they left the comment and the computer recognizes them as the original commenter.
What happens if it’s on another site or they were logged in anonymously? Who owns the blog comment then?
The law says the commenter owns the blog comment, period. By law, if the blog commenter comes to you and asks you to remove a blog comment from your blog, you are required to comply. This can cause a real headache if someone commented anonymously and you have no means to verify identity. It’s almost always better for the blogger to err on the side of caution and remove any blog comment when requested to do so.
If you own your blog, that is, you host it on your own domain that you control, it might not hurt to have some legalese that says you are not liable for blog comments and other user-driven content on your site. That legalese can also state that by leaving a comment, the user grants the licensed right to display that comment for as long as you wish. However, this is not necessary to protect you, because anyone who has a website that allows user-driven content (blog comments, video uploads, blogs, chat, forum posts, etc), is not held legally responsible for the posts of third party users.
So in summary, my recommendation about blogging and blog comments:
* Don’t leave a blog comment on a blog where you might want to use the comment for something else later.
* If someone asks you delete a blog comment on your blog, delete it. It’s easier that way.
* Consider a disclaimer or legalese on your blog of website that states your legal rights pertaining to user-driven content on your site.
* Think before you post, comment or upload anything to a site you don’t personally control or own.
Blog commenters own their blog comments. Bloggers own their blog writings. The internet remains wild and untamed.