Blogs, Splogs, and Clipmarks

A little while ago Slaw got an email pointing out that one of our stories linked an excerpt from an author’s work to a “splog” and not to the site where the author originally put it. As well, we were reminded that extensive quoting from sources might best be done with permission, if it didn’t in fact infringe on copyright. Of course we set things right as soon as we could. But the email got me thinking about weblogs and copyright — and wondering what “splogs” were.

The latter is easier to tackle. Splogs are blogs that find their content exclusively in the publishings of other weblogs — they are “spam + blogs,” the aim of which is to make money out of the enterprise of others. Cash comes in because of Google ads, typically. The theory is that ads on real weblogs are by and large uninteresting to visitors, who come for the content; but those who arrive in splogs will find themselves with “wrong” content and “right” ads, and so will click on the ads. Mark Cuban, businessman and media moghul, who has an informative piece on this phenomenon for those who’d like to learn more, estimates that more than a million of these “zombies” (kill ‘em and they keep on coming) have been combed out of one weblog search engine, to no permanent effect.

I thought of splogs again recently because of a new Web 2.0 app, Clipmarks. This is a web page clipping tool that seems quite handy for doing research. It sits in your toolbar and serves to snip and save on the company’s server selected chunks of a web page; you can add metadata as you wish; and you can search and tag your clippings. All of which makes it a useful research tool.

But — you can also make your clippings public, so that others can search and see them, which makes that portion of the Clipmarks site a splog, so far as I’m concerned, albeit a splog that’s created by volunteer minions. There’s only a small-type hotlink back to the page from which the clip was taken by way of attribution. And their “copyright” page says, in effect, please let us know if we’ve stepped on anyone’s toes and we may fix it. But a mea maybe culpa shouldn’t cover their corporate glutei maximi, I’d guess.

How about Slaw? Is good attribution enough when we quote? How extensive a quotation is fair use? Are we in a “better” position because Slaw is non-commercial? I’m more ignorant of copyright law than I ought to be, and so one of my New Year’s resolutions is to brush up my IP knowledge, at least enough to know when Slaw is close to the line. Feel free, Slawyers, to educate me.

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  1. I don’t feel comfortable reproducing an entire article or post from another blog without permission. I will usually give a summary, a key quote (or two), and then link back or cite to the original so that someone can find it.

    Recently someone with a bigger-name blog than mine took one of my longer posts from and essentially reposted the entire thing with some slight re-wording of the text. Some complimentary things were said about me with significant links to my blog post. I can’t remember if I also received an email that this had been done (I may have). I did feel funny about it: on the one hand, I felt my work had been taken for the benefit of the other blog; on the other hand, it did drive up traffic to my site and it was fairly flattering to be noticed in this way.

    These feelings aside, my personal viewpoint regarding copyright has always been that things should be open and material/text easily shared, with attribution. I also realize I have left things fuzzy and open since I have no copyright statement on my site. Laziness is about the only thing that has preventing me setting up a Creative Commons license for myself. This recent incident has proved the great need for it, however. Then my feelings would be clear to all.

  2. On another line of thought, I have lately been taking notes during conference sessions and posting the notes to the web. Again, I wonder the copyright implications of this. I always indicate who the speaker is, and what the session was. When possibleI link to the speaker’s PowerPoint, presentation notes and/or website.

    However, where does the copyright lie with notes? Some people call them “summaries” or my own interpretation of the information given. This is true in some cases, but if you have ever seen my notes you will see that oft times they are verbatim what the speaker said or what was on a slide. See, I’m pretty fast at note taking. In fact, at one recent session the speaker posted his own speaking notes and then referred people to my post because it was more extensive.

    Thus far speakers have been flattered and others, both attendees and those who could not attend, have indicated they find my notes useful and desirable. But where is the line?

    Will speakers have to start making copyright statements before sessions regarding the use of notes taken during a talk?

  3. The following is a comment from Simon Chester, emailed in.

    Too little time to do a full posting on the Copyright Act implications of blogging but a few reactions. This is done on a BlackBerry so please forgive the typing and formatting errors. Unless its apparent otherwise this post is about Canadian law.

    1. Its the fair dealing defence that permits reasonable quotation. Posting an entire article is outside the defence and generally a licence to reproduce would be necessary. That could be as simple as an exchange of emails with the author.
    2. Paraphrasing used to be recognized as not caught but its useful to reread the ECW Shania Twain case.
    3. Connie’s summarizing of conference speeches is protected two ways. As reporting and as fair dealing. For more details see
    4. Copyright protects the expression of the idea not the idea itself. No speaker could claim that the audience was to listen to what was being communicated but not describe it to others unless that prohibition had been expressly imposed at the outset.
    5. I’d also argue that the culture of blogging might properly influence a judge’s assessment of whether an author could assert that a posting represented a reproduction of a work. If the work is properly credited, fairly quoted and no attempt is made to misrepresent the author’s creative work as another’s, then it should be respected.
    6. Damages may also be problematic for an open public website — has a blog reference influenced in any way the market value of a work on the open net.
    7. The case is more problematic for a subscription site like the WSJ or one that removes its content after a short period of being publicly accessible. If we reproduce that content we have devalued the work.
      There is virtually no caselaw on this point. The Shetland Times case has no Canadian analogues. Generally see Bloggers tend not to litigate.
  4. Simon, this is very helpful and clarifies a lot of things. Still some grey areas, but I am a lot clearer now. And my mind will be more at rest with some of my postings. Thank you.


  5. Hello Simon,

    Thanks for the “splog” explanation, it’s helpful. I know that it does not answer directly your question, but the whole issue of legitimate attribution, fair use, etc. I would suggest, is best handled from the blog author’s end by using a Creative Commons license – as you do!

    A lot of people out there do not understand that the full copyright is a collection of rights. Several authors (especially blog authors!) do not necessarily wish to retain full copyright… Two cents worth.



  6. These guys at RipMarks don’t seem to understand the fundamental concept of Intellectual Property. It seems that they have found a way to rip off the internet and tell their victims to “sent a request and we’ll stop stealing your content”. That would be like a guy out on a street corner peddling pirated DVDs and telling Sony to sent him a letter and he’ll stop selling their DVDs. What kind of deranged thinking takes this kind of GALL?