Who owns user- generated content? This was one of the unopened – or rather unanswered – questions at the SIIA Brown Bag lunch I attended in New York last week. Lots to read about the subject online, but these two pieces, the first from 200, seem better than most. The ironic thing is that many, if not most, of the people commenting on the web seem to think that it can be decided by group opinion: “I’m not a lawyer but. . . .” I think we all need some lessons in why we have a justice system, and the concept of the rule of law. One reason is to protect us from the rule of crowds.
“The copyright analysis here is pretty simple. First, the author of a blog comment creates an original work when he/she writes the comment. This, of course, assumes that the comment is in fact original and does not infringe the copyrights of another. Second, copyright protection is triggered once the comment is published, or in this case, posted to the blog. Contrary to popular belief, no additional steps (for instance, recording a copy of your work with the United States Copyright Office) are required before authors gain copyright protection. Thus, under copyright law, the blog comment author is the owner of the comment and his/her copyrights are triggered at the moment the comment is added to the blog.”
“Companies like Nielsen not only make money selling the wisdom of crowds, they also copyright and legally own the crowd wisdom they collect. While I’m not a lawyer, it seems the current legal answer to the question ‘who owns the wisdom of the crowd?’ is it is owned by whoever collects and copyrights it.”
The real debate will start when we publishers figure out how to make a profit – not just generate traffic or even revenue – from content contributed by users. And that time isn’t far off. Buckle your seatbelts.