So sometimes, as you know, we get email. Sometimes we publish the email. PZ Myers has been doing it for years. And before I was a blogger, I used to publish every piece of email that I got from my web page response to Amway. (I no longer do this, but I’ve set up a guest book to let people self-publish their feedback.)
Because I am such a polite heathen, I usually ask people’s permission before posting the text of an exchange on a blog, and I will generally honor someone’s request to have their stuff taken down. However, I have until recently considered it fair game to post whatever I receive at my discretion, and only a matter of etiquette to do what they want.
But recently I had a reason to go and look up the law, and I was surprised by what I found. It turns out that legally, the writer of any message has an implied copyright on everything they produce. While the copyrights are rarely enforced, intellectual property experts generally agree that it is a significant ethical violation to post somebody else’s material without permission, even if you are just responding to it. You can paraphrase it, you can include perhaps short excerpts, but you should not simply repost it verbatim.
I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know all the details all that well. What do you think, dear readers? Are we committing copyright fraud every time we post one of those amusing “we get email” messages, when we have not obtained explicit permission in advance?
I don’t think we’d ever be taken to court for it — after all, just look how much Something Awful routinely gets away with for comedy purposes. However, as an ethical humanist with morality based on real world consequences, I’d like to reason this out and avoid validating claims that atheists are immoral sinners.