Sunday, February 20, 2011

Links as the new punctuation mark

Here's an article about hyperlinks as "the new punctuation mark." I'm getting interested in how the web is changing, and has already changed, prose and narrative, and hyperlinking is the most obvious web-based advance, and probably the most important one, as it makes most of the others (video, audio) possible.

I was thinking, btw, of copyright issues. I remember when a friend wanted to use a popular country song as the epigraph of her novel, and she contacted the copyright holder (not the songwriter, actually, but a company-- made me think of how Lennon and McCartney lost control of their own lyrics and music). The company told her she could use the lyrics if she paid $800 and a 1% of the sales of the book. Even if her publisher would have agreed with that last part (it wouldn't-- 1% of the sales price is like 10% of the company's eventual profits from the book), she wasn't about to pay $800 for what would actually be free advertising for the song. So she wrote her own country song, just for the book.

But think about it. Recently I wrote a blog post about synopsis, and how it shouldn't be about the plot but about the whole story. (That's what our March class is about, btw-- described on the right there.) I wanted to make a graphic distinction of the difference between plot and story, and so I linked to a site with the sheet music of Ave Maria (plot) and a Youtube video of Pavarotti singing Ave Maria. So... does a link violate copyright laws? Or is that something Youtube can worry about and I don't have to? (I don't know, but if anyone's going to sue me, I'll take the links down. :)

Our articles and blog posts are frequently posted on other sites (sometimes with, sometimes without our permission), and sometimes there's just a link to our original. Of course, we prefer the latter, as it brings people to our site (not that this means much-- not like we charge or have ads). And it would never occur to me that there was anything wrong with someone putting a link to a post of ours in their own blog or article.

But I bet I would object if someone made a book that was composed primarily of lots of links to our articles and articles written by others-- "The Best Writing Advice Evuh Book!" At least, I'd probably object if the book's compiler made money from it. I don't want someone making money from something we give away for free, after all.

No great wisdom here. But I wonder if we're going to struggle with copyright issues forever now, or if that'll be resolved by people (I hope) smarter than I am.


Anna Geletka said...

I have an academic background, and to me hyperlinks seem like the equivalent of citations in a formal paper. When I use a quotation from another source, I include a citation - be that parenthetical, footnote, or hyperlink.

Just as it is inappropriate to gank 90% of someone else's work to write your own paper (no matter how you cite it), it's not ok to use 90% hyperlink citations in a blog post meant to illustrate the blogger's opinion (I would exclude link-based posts from this category).

I think these rules will eventually become codified, we just need to wait for formality to catch up with technology.

Julie Harrington said...

Wuh oh. LOL. I do this -- link to your site and topics all the time and encourage people to read your stuff and get involved here because I think there's a ton writers can learn here. Never even occurred to me to check first and say, "Is it okay for me to link...." So hopefully that is okay.

But hell yes! If someone just put together a book and it was all just links to YOUR articles and sold it, isn't that just a fancy way of making a profit on other people's work? That's just wrong. you're essentially selling something to somebody that you don't own any part of it. Gah! That's just messed up!


Melissa said...

I don't see what the problem is with posting website links (for free or for profit). They aren't taking credit for the content they're linking to, are they? There are many reference books that just contain lists of website addresses (see here for a few examples) just like how there are books that contain lists of reference books, restaurant addresses, and movie titles. Website address books aren't very reliable, though, since website addresses change all the time while books can't change as fast.

Linking to a site that lists the lyrics of a song is very different than printing that song in your book. Like if you think of lyrics as poetry, you can tell someone the ISBN of a book that contains a poem without needing to ask for permission, but you can't post all the poetry from the book on your website.