Good strategies and bad strategies for furthering your cause.

Let's say you're a non-profit organization "dedicated to building a global community who will speak up for the ocean."

Maybe part of your strategy to make this happen is to aggregate relevant news about the ocean environment and the impacts of human activity upon it on your website.

A quick and dirty way to do this might be to scrape content from other websites.

However, the people who generated that content might object to their copyright being violated by your quick technological solution.

Given that the people writing the stories that describe the ocean environment and the impacts of human activity upon it (whether in words or in pictures) might already be sympathetic to your organizational goals, a better strategy might be to respect their copyright (and, more broadly, their intellectual and creative labor). Instead of scraping their content, and burying attribution to the actual authors or artists at the very end of the post, it might be better to quote a paragraph, link prominently to the source, seek explicit permission for use, and cultivate a network of relationships with scientists and blog readers.

It takes relatively little to get the people blogging about science (and the audiences reading them) on your side. However, being too lazy or careless to respect their work is likely to communicate that you're running one of those non-profits that plays fast and loose with important things when it suits you. Maybe those important things are proper attribution, maybe those important things are sound scientific research. If you're cutting one kind of corner, what are the odds that you're willing to cut another kind?

Don't do that. In a crowded field of nonprofits, this kind of careless behavior will make you stand out in the wrong way.

2 responses so far

  • Well said. And thanks for the support!

  • Gaythia Weis says:

    I agree with the analysis above but would expand upon it by a bit.

    First, without knowing anything about the structure behind the organization mentioned above, I would point out that just because a group is "non profit" does not necessarily mean that someone is not making an income off of it. From their website, all we are told is this: "Your generous donation(s) will support The TerraMar Project in the next phase of our web development. Educational programs, scientific research and NGO support will be the focus of our donations." See: But would it matter if they turned out to be dedicated hobbyists? Or a for profit corporation, where in addition to those on the (possibly paid) staff, there are shareholders also planning to profit?

    The website, while certainly appealingly designed and built in a way that makes the materials within very accessible to non scientists, seems to be composed of the material of others. With links to other websites in the case of their "educational materials page". "The Daily Catch" critiqued above, did contain full article scrapes from other websites until just recently. But this morning I notice it is down for maintenance. Perhaps the message has been received. The contribution TerraMar seems to be making is to provide "A PLATFORM FOR CITIZENSHIP AND TRANSFORMATION OF THE HIGH SEAS" by inviting others to take a pledge, befriend a species, become an ambassador to TerraMar, and "share my love for the ocean with family and friends."- See more at: (Ha! I note that they cleverly have inserted a link back to themselves this time, without me having to add it!)

    I think that this instance ought to be set as one point in a larger debate. It is somewhat appropriate that I first encountered this post as a link put up at Google + by Janet Stemwedel. I think that the work of Jaron Lanier is relevant.
    From his Edge article on the local/global flip: (Which, of course, I remember reading but got back to by using a search engine):
    "If we enter into the kind of world that Google likes, the world that Google wants, it’s a world where information is copied so much on the Internet that nobody knows where it came from anymore, so there can’t be any rights of authorship. However, you need a big search engine to even figure out what it is or find it. They want a lot of chaos that they can have an ability to undo. … when you have copying on a network, you throw out information because you lose the provenance, and then you need a search engine to figure it out again. That’s part of why Google can exist. Ah, the perversity of it all just gets to me." (Me too!)

    Elsewhere on the internet this morning, science journalist Carl Zimmer is upset about what he regards as a personal attack by science blogger, PZ Meyers.

    PZ is both a scientist and someone actively engaged in public science communication. Many scientists would probably prefer to stay back in their labs. And so science journalists play a useful role. Carl Zimmer is a journalistic professional who understands proper attribution. He is a skillful writer who has even written a textbook on evolution. But on the other hand, he was apparently an English major, who has learned much science in the course of his science journalistic career, but has never, as far as I know, formally gotten a degree in science.

    Also, the American Chemical Society is reminding me to renew my membership this week. I pay them to read their journals. The authors are supposed to feel grateful for having been allowed to publish within and are not compensated for their work.

    So I think that the line that needs to be drawn here has to do with where the boundary lies when one person profits off the work of another. Should I pay Jaron Lanier for coming up with better supporting arguments than I could come up with myself? Should a quick eyed business entrepreneur be able to read about a new science discovery "hot out of the laboratory" and make millions? In an era when "dead trees" do not define the ability to publish journals, should the ACS continue to insert itself between me and the chemistry professionals whose work I wish to follow? What role should a professional organization play in the modern era?

    I think that we can agree that reproduction in total of articles without permission is a bridge too far, but I think we need to more closely look at all the roads leading up to such bridges.