Sunday, March 11, 2012

Attribution burden for podcasts

Editor’s note: I am an avid listener and sponsor of On The Media, and acquaintance of the author of the Feminisnt blog, who uses the moniker Furry Girl when posting on that site.

On March 2nd, OTM producer Sarah Abdurrahman was featured in a segment on the On The Media podcast, talking to with Bob Garfield about making Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests about herself. In that segment, she refers to her source idea, being “this blog post about this woman who” made FOIA requests about herself. She then goes on to quote several details out of this blog post verbatim, specifically, some of the entries in the FOIA results. Bob moves on to discussing Sarah’s own experience doing the same and never is the blog mentioned, nor the author of the blog post mentioned.

Sarah also produced her own blog post on the OTM site the same day, covering some of the same details as the segment. It, too, never mentions either the name of the blog, or the author, but does provide a link to the Feminisnt blog post from which she gathered her source idea.

This event, which, on a better day would have served the dual purpose of spreading the word about citizen access to government information, and more readership of a blog which helped initially promulgate that information, ended up turning sour.

The original Feminisnt blog post has, at the bottom, a little icon, Creative Commons License, and a comment that the text is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. It requires that, presuming you’re a non-commercial entity (OTM is a not-for-profit), that you would need to provide attribution if you were to share the work (i.e., copy, distribute, or transmit). Whereas the OTM blog post has a link (and thus attribution), it doesn’t strictly, license-wise, need one—it is not copying, distributing or transmitting the original work, but merely providing a reference. On the other hand, the OTM segment, copies/transmits select small portions of the work over the public radio airwaves and via the internet in podcast form.

The lack of attribution by the OTM show itself spawned a series of angry tweets and a blog rant and, so far, one response by OTM’s Senior Producer, Katya Rogers, which includes a denial: “neither our blog post nor our broadcast segment constitute copy, distribution or transmission of Furry Girl's original work.”

The OTM segment was clearly not a whole copy, but neither is it free of the work in question. From a legal perspective (and I am not a lawyer), it seems that both of the following are true: (1) OTM only borrowed a small amount, and (2) even if that were to be sufficient to show a prima facie case of copyright infringement, OTM could argue fair use.

That said, I argue that there’s been a bit of a departure from ethics on OTM’s part. In order to bolster their OTM segment, presumably due to the humor value and simultaneous big brother nature of the FBI commentary, they use another person’s produced information. This is information that they could not get for themselves: In the case of Furry Girl’s story, OTM FOIA requests would never return such data, it being a request that only Furry Girl could have fulfilled. In terms of Sarah’s own data, FOIA requests are notorious for how long they take to fulfill, so they could have waited until the FBI finally responded to put up the story, but they did not–they instead used information from the original blog post. I know that we don’t own the news we break, but in this case, there’s no available, more original direct source. The fact that OTM did this and didn’t bother to refer to the original source material in situ is what I take issue with. They could have produced the entire segment without any of the Feminisnt source material, and gotten most of the idea across and not incurred an ethical obligation.

It does not suffice that Bob gave a link to Sarah’s post and that Sarah’s post, in turn, gives attribution to Furry Girl. The OTM segment itself should have given attribution, and not just in the form of a “if you want to know more, here’s a link”.

If it had been a random guest on the show instead of Sarah, it would have been an issue I would have taken with that guest about their own standards of sourcing and attribution. Instead, the segment was produced entirely by the OTM staff, who raise the bar about journalism standards around the globe, and it seems that they, of all people, should know how to do better.

P.S., Whereas I think the OTM staff could have done better, the hyperbolic escalation by Furry Girl and the yield-no-ground nature of Ms. Rogers’ response seem to me to be largely wasted efforts on both sides. All Furry Girl wanted was attribution, and attribution would have been trivial to provide. Instead, we have a threatened legal battle and Google bombing, and who knows what future waste. Aren’t there more things wrong on the Internet to which we can now attend?

1 comment:

Mason Bryant said...

It looks an awful lot like "fair use" though it would have been in good taste to offer some sort of attribution. Maybe they didn't want to be associated with Furry Girl?