The work I do—what I spend most of my day doing—is moderating comments. That is, I read the comments, decide which ones to highlight or "Feature," sometimes (not always) do a little basic editing triage, check the links, and post them.
When someone gets mad, or there's a dispute, or I need to "disallow" (not publish) a comment, I usually—not always—contact the commenter privately.
It's important to note that I can't contact people who don't leave an email address. If you've ever had a comment that you've written not appear on the site and you got nuthin' but silence from me, it might be because you failed to disclose your contact information and I can't get in touch with you.
To proceed. Sometimes, comment moderation is easy...
When issues come up, though, the place turns into a forum. People make assertions, other people dispute the assertions, commenters start back-and-forth exchanges with each other and with the post author, etc.
Those are the days when I earn my pay. I spend a lot of time in private correspondence with various people, soothing tempers, explaining my policies and Comment Guidelines, negotiating edits, correcting mistakes and misapprehensions, etc. The surface of the waters look calm, but there's a lot of turbulence underneath.
I said, you said, then I said
I don't like it when exchanges get going. I tried to set a policy of asking people to comment about the original post and not respond to other commenters, but that doesn't work, for the simple reason that it shouldn't—many people who respond to other commenters are providing additional information or trying to be helpful. You wouldn't want to quash that.
If I have to allow exchanges, though, the test I apply is whether the second commenter is being helpful helpful and cordial and not dismissive or insulting. I've gotten very sensitive, over many years, to the distinction between what I call resolving exchanges and escalating exchanges. I can almost sense which is which from one comment, before anyone has even actually responded. A "resolving" exchange is where the two parties are successively finding common ground and isolating the cause of their disagreement, which often seems to recede in importance as the exchange continues. Those are usually characterized by an increasing level of formal politeness and expressions of sympathy and understanding—what I think of as the verbal equivalent of bowing. An "escalating" exchange (sadly, there is less need to define this one) is one that is increasingly disputatious, tendentious, heated, or argumentative; one in which one or both parties are feeling affronted, disrespected, contradicted, or attacked, and bringing increasing levels of effort, research, and debating strategies to bear in the service of winning their case and forcing the other guy to admit that he is, in fact, a braying jackass. (Sagacious empirical observation would indicate that the latter result is seldom actually reached, unless the other guy is being really, really sarcastic. It doesn't seem to stop people from trying.)
I would imagine most people reading this are familiar, abstractly (ahem), with the "escalating" type of exchange.
I do my best, weak mortal that I am, to keep the peace. When it starts getting ridiculous—usually, when I've had to disallow multiple comments, or I've gotten angry emails from more than one reader, or when I just sense there are multiple exchanges happening that are in danger of escalation—I just close the post to further comments. Keeping the peace is more important than a) anybody proving themselves "right" or b) all the participants (or any subset of us) continuing until we "settle" an issue. It's the internet—nothing is ever settled. Settle it once, at great cost in time and argumentation and way too much typing, and the exact same issue will crop up again a few months later, refreshed and restored and all ready for rehashing.
The copyright posts were hard days for me. Turns out lots of people have lots of beliefs and feelings about this issue (or about Andy or Jay, or artists, or lawyers, or settlement amounts, etc. ad nauseam), one way or another. There were a couple of main streams: 1. People don't understand copyright law. 2. People think the law should be different. 3. People think each case should be up to them to decide, based on what seems reasonable to them in the particular instance. 4. People haven't even read the post, don't even grasp the basic facts of the case we're discussing, but are willing to pop the cork on some bottled diatribe they've got inside them that's been waiting for any old excuse to bubble over.
Um...sorry. Just the first three.
Anyway, as I was saying, there's lots of misunderstanding. Which is why I'd like to suggest again a few books that we've recommended in the past—Photographer's Legal Guide by Carolyn E. Wright, and Bert Krages' Legal Handbook for Photographers: The Rights and Liabilities of Making Images (note the lack of international links: although copyright law is international to a considerable extent, Carolyn and Bert are both U.S. attorneys writing for a U.S. audience. If you live somewhere else, you should find yourself a good resource that fully reflects local expertise and laws.)
I remember finding Bert's book a little more informative, but that might be because it contained more stuff that was new to me at the time. Carolyn, of course, is the author of the Photo Attorney blog, a leading blog for legal issues affecting photographers.
For a more in-depth treatment, try Content Rights for Creative Professionals, Second Edition: Copyrights & Trademarks in a Digital Age, Ctein's bible on the subject and his top recommendation.
To Teddy Roosevelt, "bully" meant "good"
If I may just get a parting shot in (hey, bully pulpit and all that), I would like to point out one little thing about copyright, which is: the use of the word fair in "Fair Use" doesn't actually refer to what you personally think is fair.
The word leads people astray. In fact, I think the term "Fair Use" should be changed to something like "Hall Pass." As in, "Yes, Miss Krabapple, I know I'm in the hall during class time, but I have a hall pass." The concept of fairness should be kept out of the matter, linguistically speaking, and the concept of permission should be brought in. Because as every old cranky guy has learned in what seems like a long, neverending lesson, life isn't fair; but, as every schoolchild knows, permission from authorities is arbitrary and capricious, and you'd better watch your ass even when you think it's covered. That seems more closely analogous to Fair Use.
It would save a lot of heartache. Not to mention comment moderation.
And now, if I may humbly beg your indulgence, I'd like to do something I not only seldom do, but seldom want to do...and close this post to comments.
It's not that I don't like you; really it's not. It's just that, like the gentleman in the link below, I've got a headache. I'm feeling a little weary of fighting about copyright in this round, that's all.
All Best, as always,
Mike, TOP's bow-tied referee
P.S. Do not get started watching YouTube links of referees getting punched if you have any work to do. They're hysterical, and, like so much on the internet, oddly addicting.
ADDENDUM: I did a little more checking into the fight video. From what little I can find it appears that the boxer was an unranked Argentine club fighter named Pepe Martin, and he was charged with assault (no word about any jail time) and received a lifetime ban from the ring for his KO of the ref.
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.