There was a service, which I didn't really know much about until Saturday or Sunday, called Old School RPG Planet, run by Alex Schroeder. It was a blog feed aggregator, allowing people to follow multiple old school blogs in one place without needing to add them manually, one at a time, to Feedly or the (late) Google Reader. Now, it’s gone, and since I guess I’m indirectly responsible for what happened, and I've already seen some misinformation going around, I figure I’m as good a person as any to explain what happened.
Without naming names (because this isn't about putting anyone on the spot,) someone on G+ mentioned he’d been bundling up blog posts from OSR Planet and converting them to Kindle format so that he could keep up on the blogs in his own time, instead of all in one daily internet session. He asked if anyone else wanted a copy, or whether he should put the ebook up on his website.
I asked if he was planning to check with the bloggers in question, and this is where a debate started. As a result of the debate, Alex thought it best to take down OSR Planet and redirect it to another blogger aggregator. I think that's an overreaction, but I'm sure he is aware that no one was blaming him for anything, or accusing him of violating copyright law; it was all about how people might use the feeds he was providing.
Although copyright law was mentioned during the debate, from my point of view, it’s not about the law, but about the rights the law is trying to protect: that the person who creates something should have a say in where and how their work is distributed.
I did not add my blog to OSR Planet, because I didn't really know anything about it, although in retrospect, I think I may have seen referrals from it. I’m not really worried about the fact that my blog was listed there, because a feed aggregator is really just taking what’s being put out on RSS, which is something I can control. I could turn off RSS/Atom or set it to only include the first few lines, if I wanted to. I’m also not concerned about what I call “end-user services”, like Readability, or an online web-to-PDF service, anymore than I would be concerned about someone using text-to-speech on my blog posts to make audiobooks for their private use. I’m not even concerned about informal arrangements like “Hey, I bundled a bunch of blog posts together as an eBook. Anyone want a copy?”
It’s when we get into formal (re)distribution that the problems arise. If someone takes my posts and distributes them as an eBook without my permission on a website, they are doing three things:
(1) They are affecting my own plans at redistribution of my own material.
I do plan on editing and rearranging my material for distribution as ebooks, many of which will probably be free, but some may be commercial products. Having what's basically a rough draft circulating outside my control interferes with this, in many ways.
(2) They are taking away my control over how I want to present my material.
Someone could stick ads in an ebook next to my post. Or put it adjacent to some objectionable rant, perhaps not making it clear that I’m not linked to that rant. Or they may edit it in ways I don’t approve, or use amateurish layout, or forget to include correct attribution or terms of licensing. For example, I don’t include my real name in my blog posts, but every time I submit material to Fight On!, I insist that it use my full real name and a link to my blog. That is my preferred attribution. If someone were to redistribute my material without asking, they would not know that.
(3) They are possibly affecting other arrangements I have made.
Again, taking the Fight On! example, I edited and added to Clerics Without Spells for the next Fight On!, which has been delayed but is almost ready for publication. If someone were to release their own version of my blog post, they are undermining Fight On!
And all of this is only about someone redistributing my posts for free. I haven't even talked about someone making money off my material.
And what about licensing? I have not released any material under the OGL, ever. I have released a couple things under various Creative Commons licenses. The vast majority of the material I've published is just my own private creation, not released under any license; I expect people to read it, possibly modify it for private use, or even share it informally, kind of the same thing any blogger would expect. If I were to allow someone to re-publish something I wrote, I would almost certainly want it to be under a Creative Commons NonCommercial ShareAlike or similar license. And I would probably want to edit it, to make sure it was an example of my best work and not random, off the cuff remarks posted to my blog.
In other words, you’d have to ask me first. And really, why wouldn't you ask someone first before publishing their work? What is everyone afraid of?