The Dangers of Public Postings

I’ve been following an interesting exchange on Facebook. A best-selling author posted a comment and a link that looked a lot like an accusation of copyright infringement against another author. Specifically, he used the phrase “rip off” and linked to a site that was promoting a potential TV series based on a series of books. At last count, there were well over one hundred comments on this posting, some pro, some con, and some from the author of the book series upon which this TV series is based.

There’s an old saying that there are no new stories. Shakespeare wrote them all and we are just all adapting them in new ways. I’m not sure I agree with that completely, but certainly there could be some truth.

Still, an accusation of copyright infringement is a serious thing and I do wonder if Facebook is the venue in which to make it. Why not notify your publisher? Or your attorney? Why not examine the property in question to see if there’s a valid case to be made? Why accuse someone on Facebook?

There have been studies done about the “false intimacy” of online exchanges. People using online dating services can become incredibly invested in “relationships” with people they’ve yet to even meet. People using online chat rooms act as though they are at a party with friends, not strangers. And people on Facebook may feel that they are much closer to or engaged in much more private exchanges with other users than they really are.

Authors need to treat every comment they make on Facebook and other online venues as though it is being made in a public forum (which, depending on your privacy settings, it is, as was the case with the author I mention at the top of this post), and being recorded for posterity. One can’t write about serious issues without a full understanding of those issues, as Ashton Kutcher learned when he publicly tweeted a defense of Joe Paterno, who was fired from Penn State for his role in the Jerry Sandusky matter (Sandusky is currently on trial for child sex abuse).

And one can’t be flip, either. I’m sure this author didn’t realize he might be defaming or libeling another author when he posted his comment about his series being ripped off. I’m no lawyer, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the author accused has a legal case. Though I’m not sure what he’d gain from pursuing it. If I were this author, I might chalk this up to a case of “no such thing as bad publicity” and if I were the author who’d made the comment that started it all, I’d probably delete the comment and the entire conversation and perhaps post a brief apology or at least back-pedal some, e.g., “I recently posted a comment here in which I referred to a forthcoming television project as a rip-off of my long-running book series. I did so without reviewing the plot of this television project closely and have been informed that I should rest assured that there are few similarities that warrant that comment. I therefore apologize for my comment and wish those involved the best of luck.”

Every author and publisher is using social media. Thus, every author and his works are in the public eye and far more accessible than at any other time in history. Every post or comment can live on indefinitely. We must all take great care in choosing our words.


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