My content, their ads.
I’m no stickler for copyright. As a writer my goal is to be read, generally. However, there is a certain etiquette online. As in, you link, and you don’t copy everything. A lot of Sri Lankans don’t seem to get this. On Kottu, I get a lot of join requests from kids who are just copy-paste articles without attribution. I’ve also talked to print editors who seem to think “Source: Internet” is fine. Then there are site like the Colombo Telegraph, which are almost completely copy jobs now.
Uvindu Kurukulasuriya is an established journalist who’s done some good original reporting on that site, including on WikiLeaks. Now, however, the site is almost entirely copy-pasted from other sources, at least as far as I can tell. The site includes content from places like Sri Lankan newspapers, some of which are OK with reproduction, and from international sites like the Guardian, which are most definitely not. I’m not going to get into the legal/ethical line here, but I will say that this is not very polite, nor does it really add value.
Aggregation is fine, Kottu is built on aggregation, but there the point was always to drive traffic to bloggers, not to cannibalize the traffic they might have. On Kottu we only use an excerpt and pride ourself on driving traffic out. What sites like the Colombo Telegraph do is take content from other sources and run their own ads. I think it’s not right.
Recently, for example, they ran a piece I wrote a year ago called Is Ranil Gay? It’s an old piece, taken out of context, and they ran it on my birthday, meaning I had to deal with a lot of feedback on a day I was trying to take off. Plus, my site gets no traffic bump because they’ve simply copied the whole article. In that sense the site really adds no value and it just takes value from people that are publishing original content. I mailed Uvindu and told him to stop copying my stuff wholesale and to use excerpts and links like a decent Internet citizen.
Which I think is the broader point. Content is meant to be shared and sharing is good. There is nothing to stop you from copy/pasting everything if you want, but that makes you kind of a bad member of the community. In hip-hop that would be called a biter. People take time developing their own sites and presenting content they assemble, and linking is cool. Copying all the content to your own site, however, is not cool at all. It’s just rude, and it doesn’t really add much value to the community.
So, to repeat, because many Sri Lankan journalists and bloggers don’t seem to know this (including, sadly, DBS Jeyaraj), you shouldn’t just copy paste stuff from the net onto your own site. While it is technically illegal and journalistically unethical, I won’t even get into that. In a community where we all live and work together, it just isn’t polite.