Kindle Comments?

As a few of you have figured out, you can read our blog on the Kindle. I know a few of you know this because I have received a very small amount of money from Amazon – a good deal less than the annual expenses of maintaining this blog, and those expenses are probably only in two figures anyway.

Simon pointed out that not being able to read comments on the Kindle is a problem. The reason for this is that separates posts and comments into two separate feeds. So I was just over at the Kindle Publishing site, about to publish the comments feed as a separate Kindle blog, when I realized I had no idea what the copyright status of comments is. In particular, if I do publish the comments feed on Kindle, I will make (a paltry amount of) money from other people’s work.

Now, I am guessing I am probably on firm legal ground doing that, since there are lots of blogs that make money (though few that make a lot of money), and they are all to some degree making money off of their comments. I think I’m on firm ethical ground as well, since the amount of money is so small that there is just no way to distribute it to the commenters that would not cost more to implement than the revenue I would receive. But I wanted to know: (a) if anyone knows of a good discussion of this topic (I can’t be the first person to think of it) and (b) if any of our regular commenters cares one way or the other.


By James Kwak

30 thoughts on “Kindle Comments?

  1. Maybe you could arrange to give us all kick-backs.

    I figure my own contributions are worth at least one millionth of a penny per word…

  2. The NY Times deals with web-based comments through their terms of service by informing commentors that they waive their rights to copyright by commenting. Personally, I think that’s fair.

    It’s not clear whether they just publish the terms or require a click through agreement when getting an account (I signed up for my account years and years ago, so I can’t remember.) You will want to check with a lawyer (or a Nolo Press book on copyrights), but you can probably sufficiently cover your bases by including a disclaimer next to the “Submit Comment” button that says something along the lines of “By submitting this comment I agree that The Baseline Scenario may modify, publish, distribute, display and otherwise dispose of my comment in any way at its sole discretion and without compensation to me.”

    3.3 You acknowledge that any submissions you make to the Service (i.e., user-generated content including but not limited to: comments, forum messages, reviews, text, shared TimesPeople activities, video, audio and photographs, as well as computer code and applications) (each, a “Submission”) may be edited, removed, modified, published, transmitted, and displayed by The New York Times Company and you waive any rights you may have in having the material altered or changed in a manner not agreeable to you. Submissions made to the Service including shared TimesPeople activities, may also be included in our RSS feeds, APIs and made available for republishing through other formats.

  3. I registered on Twitter out of curiousity…I’m having trouble “getting into it”. It just isn’t my style – but maybe I’ll evolve. I don’t know if it’s of any use to you but you may wish to check out their wording… I thought it was well written compared to most fine print.

  4. It seems to get a little “hairy” in my book. I mean look at Mike Konczal. He’s a terrific blogger with incredibly good insights and writing (as witnessed by his recent hiring at The Atlantic website) and yet for months (maybe years I don’t know) Mike chose to remain anonymous.

    I think when people talk about politics and sometimes air out strong feelings it can also become a problem for future employment. Sadly that’s the reality in today’s world. Bosses aren’t supposed to ask certain questions and aren’t supposed to judge people by their away from the job activities that don’t effect individual or company performance.

    For example we all know Mike Konczal will never get a job writing for “National Review” magazine. And most likely Newt Gingrich, although a very articulate man, won’t be hosting any shows on NPR any time soon. Neither of them will cry in their beer over that. But some of us aren’t so lucky.

  5. I’m sure this is a court case waiting to happen sometime in the future. Most large websites have user agreements that cover this specific topic but most small blogs have no user agreement and accept linkbacks or comments with no user agreement required. I’m kind of interested in seeing what would happen if someone sued a forum or blog for a portion of the revenue gained by the site. By the way this post is not copyrighted and anyone can quote me freely.

  6. As a musician, I have recorded and published music for free, although it wasn’t intended to be so. Now I record my music at home and intentionally give it away for free. Comments are, for me, an intellectual or cathartic exercise and are not intended for profit – mine anyway. If any comment I make might allow someone to make a living, then godspeed! Better yet, I hope that comments help with the optimal operation of at least one brain (mine included) and might inspire someone to do something important that doesn’t involve bloodshed.
    I hope that other commenters have a similar outlook on their comments, but if not I can’t suggest any simple remedy.
    Good luck!

  7. The long standing custom, dating back to Usenet at least, is that public reproduction on the net is free, even if there is a modest profit involved. This does not include reproduction for purposes of personal or net abuse. Reprinting, however, requires gathering rights.

  8. As a practical matter, I doubt that the existence or lack of a user agreement is going to ever make anyone’s radar when it comes to comments made on a blog. Based on my experience, I expect any commentor (most of whom are anonymous like you, wildpokerman) who complains about copyright infringement to be laughed out of court by any competent judge. If you expected to make money on it, you wouldn’t have provided it for free without disclaimer. It’s kind of like the Fair Use doctrine in reverse. No “gotchas!” allowed (that’s laymen-ese for “equitable estoppel”).

  9. If you ever manage to make money out of this blog, comments included or not, I suggest you use it to fund another website where people would be brainstorming about possible plans of action against the oligarchs.

    That would be a nice addition to baselinescenario. Informing us is not enough. We won’t change anything just by discussing. We also need to act.

  10. This is certainly an interesting question. I just wanted to thank you for making your blog available on the Kindle. (On an unrelated note, I enjoyed your Bloggingheads interview.)

  11. Not that long ago I used to use my real name for “Name” in the replies/comments of this and other blogs, however now I don’t because of possible employment issues as Ted K. intimates (and I’m not talking employment in the editorial industry, but in the computer industry – if someone doesn’t like my views I could either lose or be refused a job even if it isn’t legal).

    Anyway, I think the NYT legalese per Scot Griffin is probably the way to go. While I feel I also own copyright (that is share it – so I too can re-use my comments, which sometimes I do on my own site), I always assume that it belongs to the blog site that I’m commenting on as well.

    I certainly have no issue of you making money off my comments. Quite the opposite.

  12. How very ethical of you to even mention this. Whatever the solution, this issue of commenting as added value (free intellectual property, basically), never comes up in discussions about the plight of newspapers but it should. The newspapers all believe they are getting wiped out for giving away their product for free online (but not because of bad business deals or poor management), yet the interactive commentary by readers enhances their usual product, a feature not suited for the print format. Readers who donate commentary create free content, free opinion polling, and free focus groups (more or less). All added value to the online product, content and opinion research which would be very expensive to commission.

    However, if blogs become required to include commentators in the royalty split, they’ll turn off the feature. Commenting is a feature that relies on donated contributions, just as the success of the web itself relies on its “free” output. But the cost of creating and consuming “free” content is the central tension in sustaining the format (print or electronic). So this kind of question about royalties for comments, might help to define the problems more thoroughly, more accurately (the newspaper problem is not just the fault of online readership) and might lead to better solutions that support free speech.

  13. Yes. Ethical to bring up the issue.

    Could be we begin a discussion on how the issue of copyright over comments be understood under an “open source” agreement?

    Any links to how “open source” agreements work will be appreciated.

  14. There could be something of theoretical interest here. How might a comments under an “open source” agreement differ from that of of a mainstream media agreement?

    Mainly, I am sanguine about how JK and SJ use the commentary.

  15. You have my blessing to make money anyway you can off of the blog and comments. Just keep the right wing data miners out of the comments section so they can’t create an enemies list. Just being able to comment is a rare privilege in a world of fire hose news and opinion.

  16. Useless?! Useless?! This comment is absolutely the most useful thing since, well, Al Gore invented the Internet!

    “useless” you say, well I never!

    Ok, once in Texas, but they have no legal record of it.


  17. You can donate my share to charity. A homeless shelter seems appropriate. And who knows, soon there may be many shelters and soup kitchens.

  18. Do you think that publishing the comments feed on Kindle counts as “reprinting?” Sounds to me like it probably does.

  19. If someone complained about ads on the site, that were making you money from their comments, do you think they’d have a substantial legal or ethical case? Sounds like a pretty similar situation – they submit the comment, you republish it. The only change is that you’re republishing it in another venue.

  20. The truth of the matter is, even the folks who own Kindle (Amazon) have no idea whether this is going to work or not. 2 things show this.
    #1 The fact that they’re bashing people over the head with how great it is. Any more bashing over the head how great Kindle is, I would be convinced it was a snake oil medicine made by Madoff Incorporated. It reminds one of all the great products that cure baldness. Let me inform any idiots who are not currently aware of this: If they had a product that cured baldness they wouldn’t need one single advertisement, and you couldn’t keep it stocked on the shelves it would be flying off so fast.
    #2 People don’t appreciate things they paid for all the sudden disappearing off the Kindle. And Amazon has yet to give a satisfactory answer to that. They ham and haw whenever you call them on the phone and ask for a straight answer. And they hem and haw for a good reason: THEY DON’T KNOW.

    Will Kindle be a success? 95% yes. But Amazon should cut the bullshit until they the legalities straight.

    James, give those guys in the ivory towers of New Haven something to do. Ask the law department.

  21. You have my blessing to make money anyway you can off of the blog and comments. Just keep the right wing data miners out of the comments section so they can’t create an enemies list. Just being able to comment is a rare privilege in a world of fire hose news and opinion.

  22. Your Blog and especially the comments have been such a wonderful source of knowledge, education and inspiration for me, a visitor to the shores of the USA, that not letting you make money from my comments, small or large, would be an insult to the time and effort you guys put in.
    I know from personal experience that publishing two posts a day, day in and day out, is a massive commitment.

  23. I’ll be really happy if that sum turns out to be significant, but doesn’t look like that will happen.

    Go for it James. We won’t nickel and dime you :)

    Thanks for all your great work, and my compliments to you for publishing this post.

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