Here is an interesting ethical question. Perhaps it is one worth discussing in class. I would welcome comments and discussion here as well. [Come on Alfred – get to the point. ed.]
Well at least one and probably more web sites are reproducing content, including my blog, from blogs.msdn.com on their own sites. They are using the RSS feed to automatically update their sites with content written by other people. If you are not reading this blog at http://blogs.msdn.com/alfredth then you are reading one of those copies. (Please come over and look at my site and think about subscribing directly if the other posts there look interesting. End of shameless plug begging for subscribers.)
So what is the big deal? After all these people are not editing my copy and they are not taking credit for my work. And it is not like I am losing advertising dollars or that they are making big money from me either. Some of these sites have advertising and some don’t. The one I am most aware of does not have advertising though it does have a button to donate via PayPal. And of course the main goal of this blog, promoting information of use to computer science teachers and others, is still being met. One could argue that having my content on other sites helps that goal.
On the other hand authors lose out on some less tangible things when this wholesale copying takes place. I don’t see traffic reports and hit counts from those other sites. That makes it harder for me to know how much interest there is in what I am writing. That is useful when I try to justify my time and effort – be it to my manager, my wife or just to myself. Also some links may go to those other sites rather than to this site. That effects how my content is found in search engines. Some of these sites link back to the original source (which is good) but some of them do not and that is not so good for search engine traffic. I think that a lot of bloggers get a lot of their traffic via search engines. I know that I do.
Probably the worst thing though is that there is potential for people to leave comments on these other sites that I may never see. People will think they are replying to me (or the author of another copied blog) and be dissatisfied when that person never replies. And of course the author of the post misses out on a potential conversation.
This is not something I lose sleep over of course. But it is something to think about. Is it stealing? Is it helping? Are these people providing a service? (Note that anyone can subscribe to the main RSS feed at http://blogs.msdn.com without these other sites.) Just what is going on and is it ethical?
Feel free to discuss. Actually please discuss and let me know what you think.