Tuesday, June 28, 2011

No, Mr. Adams, No.

I know it’s a popular thing right now to pick on Scott Adams for his Internet ramblings. But when a guy has to stoop to sock puppeting to find defenders for himself when he plants himself in hostile territory, you know you’re stirring – this is a popular Adams phrase – a big kettle of crazy.

So it is with his latest blog post.

But it’s not his fault.

It’s mine. Because I’ve now provided a link to it through my blog where an audience Adams didn’t intend to read his message may now find it.

See, his new message is the concept of “author by location,” which is this (quoted from his own blog post; emphasis his):
I believe authorship - at least in terms of responsibility, not copyright - should transfer when a person moves material from one context where it is appropriate to another where it is not. The same should be true whenever moving material from one context to another changes the message.
As with many logical people, Mr. Adams fails to see the flaws in this belief. Though I can’t blame the guy. He’s stirred up a big kettle of crazy with some feminist bloggers who took umbrage at some of his ramblings. He also kinda contradicts himself in the last paragraph of his post, which reads "This model maintains complete freedom of expression, including freedom to quote material and to criticize. It simply recognizes that moving and changing a message makes you the Author by Relocation."

I agree with the latter portion of his first statement, that in changing an author’s message, the messenger bears responsibility, because the messenger is creating a derivative work. The flaw lies in Mr. Adams’ the first part of the statement in which he implies moving material unchanged from one audience to another shift authorial responsibility from the author to the messenger.

In other words, bringing a new audience into a message makes me the author of his blog post as far as cooling down any kettle of crazy I might stir up by shepherding an audience his direction. That makes as much sense as making Japanese disaster response teams responsible for cooling down the Fukushima Daiichi reactors rather than the nuclear plant experts simply because their radioactive message got spread around by that tsunami. More from his post:
As a writer, you recognize that a huge part of your job is choosing your words to fit your intended audience. When a third party introduces a different audience to your writing, it destroys the audience-matching element of your craft. In a real sense, it changes the product.
Writers should also recognize that they have no control over who their audience is, intended or not. Additionally, this is a phenomenon that existed long before the Internet, which Adams singles out as making this audience transposition by his “authors by location” easier.

While it is true writers may start out writing a piece with a specific audience in mind, once the piece is published – whether in book form or in a blog post or Quattro or a list of theses nailed to a church door – the writer has no control whatsoever over who views that piece, unless he or she puts the piece behind a walled garden and allows in only those whom he or she intends the piece for. That others may come in and read that message and be offended by it – or take it out of its intended audience into a sphere where the original author hadn’t intended for it to be read – does not remove authorship from the original writer in any way, whether the message went beyond its intended audience or not.

I do agree with Adams that if the messenger changes the message by taking things out of context, the messenger then becomes an author because in that case – and this is clearly outlined in copyright law – the messenger has created a derivative work of the author’s original message. The law is clearly on the side of the copyright holder when it comes to someone else making a derivative work of an author’s message.

If, as in Adams’ case, the authors of blogs like Jezebel and The Huffington Post took something from this humble blog, altered it in the translation, and then stirred up a big kettle of crazy in my direction, I’d be understandably upset, as Adams is. But to insist that the mere introduction of an unintended audience to a message not meant for them shifts responsibility for anger over that message from the author to the person who provide the link is ludicrously illogical.

Authorship does not change, however, if the messenger introduces the message to an unintended audience in its entirety. It’s still Martin Luther’s signature on the Ninety-Five Theses whether that paper is nailed to the door of the church at Wittenberg or in the hands of Pope Leo X, delivered to him by someone else than Luther.

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