Lessons From Spider Jerusalem and Georgia Mason: You’re Quotable and The Truth Will Set You Free

TL;DR: Fair use is there to allow and promote criticism and critique of public ideas, posts, and people. Anyone who tries to use copyright to try to silence criticism is a goddamned fascist. Treat them accordingly.

(As an aside, if you haven’t read Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy – where the Georgia Mason quotes come from – do yourself a favor and get it NOW.)

Because someone hasn’t heard of the Streisand effect, let’s have a quick civics lesson about online posts, privacy, journalism, and fair use.  (NOTE:  I am not a lawyer. I am a layman. M’kay?)

First, the Streisand Effect is defined as “the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.”

As a practical matter of course, trying to get people to remove information, especially publicly available information about you, is a good way to get people to make sure that information is out there.  For example, Corey Andon is currently telling me that I’m “required” to remove my post from Monday where I quote his public Facebook post

I wouldn’t have mentioned it again without this prompting; I’ve got other things to do with my time.  But I am not down with people trying to silence another’s protected free speech, so hopefully this example is useful for other activists, bloggers, and reporters.

It’s arguable that Mr. Andon – as well as myself, FWIW – are public figures, in that we are pervasively involved in (local) public affairs. I meet that test through my online activities, blogging, and role as a publisher; he meets that test via his sponsorship and organization of multiple public demonstrations. This only matters in terms of libel, which is not the way that Mr. Andon has tried to silence me so far.  For what it’s worth, I’m trying to ensure that I am accurately representing what Mr. Andon has said, so that you can determine whether he, or Socialist Alternative, is worth your time, energy, or money.

Mr. Andon instead said – in a private message that I’m paraphrasing – that his public post that I quoted, cited, and critiqued was his “intellectual property”.  This is so much bullshit and a clear example of trying to use copyright law to silence those who disagree with him.

Given the strong talk of Trump, I was expecting such tactics from the right, but to get them from someone representing the “Socialist Alternative” is both startling and deeply disappointing.  One hopes that he won’t try the DMCA takedown route to silence those who disagree with him;  Plagarism Today has a good recap as to why that’s a flawed tactic at the best of times.

It’s somewhat ironic that Mr. Andon is so invested in me not quoting a public Facebook post. Even Facebook warns you that it’s public (screengrab from the post in question as of ~ 1900 EST 28 Feb 2017):

When Facebook TELLS you that your stuff is public.

Once you’ve posted something publicly on Facebook (or anywhere on the internet), it’s public, and therefore quotable. (Also, the internet doesn’t forget; the Wayback Machine is a wonderful tool.)  Now, it’s true that posting something publicly does not repeat not put it into the public domain. I don’t have a right to simply cut-and-paste.  So did I just cut-and-paste his words?

My original post was 1057 words; excepting screencaps (not just of his words) 958 of them were original writing by me.  That’s 90.6%.  The additional response was 602 words, of which 450 were by me – that’s 74.7% original writing.  If you’re keeping tabs, that means that 84.8% of my post was critique, criticism, or otherwise commenting on Corey’s clearly labeled and sourced words.

The Guide Through Through the Legal Jungle points out that fair use principles apply to Facebook postings (and other social media postings as well).

Take a look at Purdue’s analysis of what factors are considered in determining if a work qualifies as “fair use” at https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/731/1/.  Specifically, the first test, where the law specifically mentions (emphasis mine) “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.”

Reporting and critiquing Mr. Andon’s bait-and-switch (a tactic he seems to have left behind with events since this Sunday), Dale Grimm’s anti-LGBT publishing practices, and the use of government resources by Ohio lawmakers to organize religious protests are pretty clearly all fair-use reasons to quote the source material.1

Let’s make something clear.  I can be a complete and utter asshole. I can be rude, condescending, preachy, and all sorts of other negative adjectives that you might want to level at me.  And they’re all probably true.

But I have something.  I have my goddamned self-respect.  I have my goddamned integrity.  I will tell the truth as best I can, whether about politics, publishing, or anything else. 

In the years to come, we will see attempts to shut down dissent and critique of the administration’s policies and tactics.  When the administration’s puppets get on the Sunday talk shows and bleat “The President will not be questioned”, we know that the President must be questioned.

The ONLY acceptable response to such questioning – whether by the administration, by myself (such as I did last year with “When Twitter Comes For You“), or by a minor flunky for a nascent Socialist party crowing about winning a single city council seat, is answering the fucking questions.

Regardless of which “side” or party you’re part of, when you answer criticisms with attempts to silence that criticism, you’re part of the problem, so quit whining and get out of the way while the rest of us fix shit.

1As a snarky aside, way to go Mr. Andon, getting Socialist Alternative to be mentioned right alongside an unrepentant bigot and people misusing government resources for religious protests!

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