Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Internet Writing and the Ownership of Ideas

I started wondering yesterday if Facebook was superseding my blog, because of the sheer amount of exchange of comments and links that you get on Facebook – including links to my own blogs. And the fact that my last 2 blogs were composed either of links or short, independent, paragraphs.

But no, my main blogging consists of longer pieces that would exceed by a long way Facebook’s limit. And then I thought there is a hierarchy (in a neutral sense) going on now in the publishing world, that goes in 2 directions. There is firstly a hierarchy of length and finish, at the top end of which you find books, which are highly edited and hopefully thought through at length, developing themes over hundreds of pages. Then you successively get magazine articles, blogs, facebooks and finally twitters, each of which become gradually shorter and less polished.

But then, in the other direction, you get a hierarchy of flow and exchange of information, at the top end of which is twitter, and at the bottom end of which are books, where you have to go to a great deal of trouble firstly to read and then perhaps to comment on an author’s work, and he/she may well not reply – or if they do, it may be a standardised letter. And to get the book in the first place, you have to find it and buy it. One of Britain’s national treasures, the anti-astrology Stephen Fry, is at both ends of this hierarchy, writing the odd book while maintaining a following of hundreds of thousands on twitter. Although if you have this sort of following, only a few of you can actually exchange information with the twitterer.

So you have this hierarchy - books, magazines, blogs, facebook and twitter - which going in one direction encourages depth of thought, and in the other encourages exchange and flow of information. In a way all this is obvious, and I’m sure it must have been said many times before. But I’m not going to search people out and credit them, partly because I thought of it myself, and partly because I don't see the need to do so.

Which brings me to another point, which is ownership of ideas. If someone directly quotes me, fair enough, credit me, though I won’t be heartbroken if you don’t. But if you take an idea from my blog and run with it, I really don’t mind if I am not credited with it – I would just be glad to see it out there, getting woven into astrocyberthought, unencumbered by a name tag. (NB I do, nevertheless, tend to credit other people for their ideas!)

Internet writing is not yet based much around money, it is hard to control, and I think that frees us from ownership of ideas. OK, you may one day put your blogs together into a book, but I don’t think it’s going to affect sales just because some of ‘your’ ideas have become well-known in an unattributed sort of way. Just make sure you write in an engaging style!

I think a lot of it is just egotism. Medieval religious artists used to not sign their names on their pictures. It was the work that mattered. And I think it’s the same with ideas. (There is something about publishing a book that can make some people feel they are real in a way they weren't previously, it makes them a 'name'.)

I had a daft situation arise a while ago, that got me thinking about this. I had interpreted some charts on my blog, and someone was miffed because they had apparently put on Facebook and Twitter the idea that these charts needed interpreting, and were now claiming ownership of that idea and wanted me to credit them. Note they had not actually interpreted these charts, they had just had the idea that someone else should do so, charts which were in the public domain anyway. It was a ridiculous situation.

Internet writing is transitory, and the ideas get passed around. Some of my readers weren’t very enthusiastic when I experimented with audio blogs, because what they wanted to do was read my pieces quickly and move on. That is also how I work on the internet. I pick up the basic ideas and move on. Longer pieces, such as you’d get in magazines or books, often also have just a few basic ideas, but expounded at length. That is why I resist giving talks or writing magazine articles.
Because it seems to me it often involves trying to find a way of saying something in 10 pages instead of 2, or finding a way of talking for an hour instead of 10 minutes. For the same reason I often find it hard to read astrology articles in magazines, or listen to astrology talks.

Significant ideas can be communicated quickly, and you will keep your audience. And the audience can interact. On the blog, we exchange comments. If I’m talking, I like to keep it brief and then see where the ‘audience’ takes it. Ownership of ideas starts to seem a bit daft in this sort of context. It’s for wannabe bigshots who take themselves far too seriously!

I don’t know where that leaves ownership of photos, but again, with so many people putting their pics on the net and passing them around, it’s hard to keep control of what is ‘yours’. I don't know who 'owns' the pictures I use on my blog, and I'm not sure what purpose it would serve to put a name under them, though I would do so if asked.

With both ideas and pictures, whatever the rights and wrongs of ownership, the fact is that we have a situation that is very hard to control. The net is a free-flowing universe in its own right, and I think the best thing is just to let go and be part of it. The free flow and exchange of information is its strength and getting too hung up on what is ‘yours’ just gets in the way of that. You are playing into the hands of those who want to over-control the net.

Site Meter


clarelhdm said...

But some significant ideas are complex. They do 'take time', and often more than ten pages, let alone two.
The importance of ownership is tied up with the idea of plagarism, and effort expended in developing complex ideas. Who will spend years writing books, thinking deeply about subjects, when e-books, blogs etc take away the financial possibility of making any sort of a living as a writer, and when your ideas can be 'poached' without credit, in the name of 'freedom of information'? I certainly don't care if someone steals my comment about how I feel about the weather or similar, but if I spend many months, and much effort, into developing complex ideas, then I do think it is important that those ideas are properly attributed. Artists have fought for copyright for music, artwork etc for years. Without it, third parties will make easy gain out of others' effort. I don't think you would appreciate seeing your (may I say excellent) chart interpretations published by someone else under their name without crediting you.

Morvah said...

Of course both of these points are valid,however the greatest exploitation of artists and musicians was surely in the recent past when managers, record companies and the 'art establishment' made fat profits on the backs of those with talent but maybe less 'worldliness'. As long as capitalism dominates the world order this will continue to some extent but for pity's sake let's share and grow our ideas while we can - who knows how long the relative freedom of the internet will last? Let's make sure we support live performance, gatherings and exhibitions so that people can afford to share their talents and inspiration and finally put an end to the notion of culture for the rich and well educated only. Ideas really don't belong to anyone until they're developed into a 'product' If you can't be bothered to do that then it's surely no skin off your nose if someone else does. Thanks D, Good post.

Dharmaruci said...

Clare, I agree when it comes to books. And I don't think people should be able to plagiarise like that. I think it's stuff that artists have put on the net that they need to hang loose with, it's a whole new world.

Dharmaruci said...

Another thing. When I put an idea on a blog, it's often got a background of blogging over years on related themes, and in that way my thinking develops. I return to the same subject in new ways.

The way I work is that I would find it much harder to think and write without the immediate feedback of the blogosphere.

Danothebaldyheid said...

I'm glad you've posted this, as I've stolen a couple of the videos you've posted for my Facebook page! I don't tend to credit them to you, because they don't usually have anything to do with astrology, and I know they will be taken much more seriously if the astrological element is not known about...
I like the fact that you tend to post things that illuminate without the necessity of an astrological background. Astrology then becomes a cipher (one which I find useful, don't get me wrong) but not some kind of intrinsic, religious style orthodoxy...

libramoon said...

Living River

If you're doing it right
It flows
It may be work;
but it's work that flows
feels good
feels right
There may be obstacles
stones and reefs to flow around
or through
picking up bits of wisdom
on the way
If you're doing it right
no need to say
Time's neither fast nor slow
Every placement relates
just so
Beautiful day,
lilting lazy river ...

May 18, 2011

Twilight said...

It's so very easy to credit the author or artist, whether in real life or on the net. When this isn't done it gives a person pause to wonder why.

I like to think that when I quote and credit, that I'm helping whoever's work that is - spreading it a little way beyond where it would naturally go.

I've stopped reading many astrology blogs though (apart from this an an occasional other) because I'm afraid that ideas will lodge somewhere at the back of my mind, then come forward later, I having forgotten from whence they came, then use them myself - making me guilty of....something I'd prefer not to be accused of.

Nathan K said...

Excellent post! I think about the progression of knowledge all the time but I've mostly considered it from an institutional standpoint, in other words, how the hierarchy of institutions from government to universities to corporations play into the control of information. The Internet has no doubt turned a lot of that on its head by allowing the individual to share their information with an equality that has been unheard of before in the world. All the same, as long as there are larger organizations of people who control the validation of information it is unlikely that anarchy will reign for long. And yet your point suggests to me how important etiquette, such as crediting known sources, is on the Internet. Ideas though are only credible when many people share them, so we must also accept the democratic way this plays out.

Dharmaruci said...

Twilight, writers have always used each others ideas. Shakespeare did it loads. It's part of how you develop ideas.

Dharmaruci said...

Nathan K, I agree with the etiquette of quoting sources on the internet. I think. In a blog, yes. On a twitter, where you've only got a few words, maybe not. The ideas are more important than the author.

In some ways, I'd rather not be connected with ideas I've come up with. It just kind of gets in the way. It's not my place to impose how I feel on someone else and not credit them when I use 'their' ideas. But that's the culture we have right now. It doesn't have to be like that, and on the internet I think we need to hang loose to it as authors.

Christina said...

Good hierarchy thingie.

I agree with Twilight. Crediting people or tracing your inspiration contributes to the flow of knowledge. I like to be told where you're coming from.

Someone plagiarised chunks of one my posts recently, passing off some particularly poetic turns of phrase as her own. I was irritated - mainly because it was so lazy - but also because it was taking the "art" part of the post, which I suppose I feel is more part of me.

So there's also a hierarchy of inspiration-borrowing-plagiarism I guess.

Anonymous said...

I litte off topic here: But what do you think about Regulus moving into Virgo this year?