Over the last couple of years WordPress.com has focused on making and promoting its site as a great place for photographers and other visual artists to showcase their work. Multitudes of new themes have been introduced to support these communities in making WordPress.com their home on the web. Sadly, however, it seems that the new Reblog is a far cry from a welcome wagon to those same creative folk if protecting their copyright is any concern.
raincoaster, a long-standing member of the WordPress.com community, posted in the forums about her experience with the new Reblog when she discovered that all the images from the original post she reblogged had been copied to her site’s Media Library. According to a Staff reply in that thread, “This is actually not a bug, but is intended behavior at this time. We do this intentionally to prevent unwanted changes to reblogged posts”.
To understand the full impact of this behavior, here are screenshots of my test Reblog from Leanne Cole (with her permission) to illustrate what currently happens when someone’s post is reblogged. Please scroll through the Gallery below by opening the first image and reading each image description in the Carousel. You may have to scroll a bit to see it.
All in all, a total of 27 images from Leanne’s original post were pulled in to my test site’s Media Library, while only 2 images were actually used in my Reblog of her post; one image for the featured image and the second for the image in the post.
I would like to believe that this is a bug, in spite of what Staff have said. Otherwise how can WordPress.com legally justify copying images, let alone the wholesale transfer of the full visual content of someone’s post, to another WordPress.com site’s Media Library? This behavior does not come under “fair use” and entirely ignores copyright owner’s rights. At the very most, displaying the one or two images used in the Reblog may fall under “fair use,” but not their actual copy and transfer to another user’s website.
Let me explain a little further. Every single WordPress.com site comes with unlimited bandwidth and one can “hotlink” from one WordPress.com site to another WordPress.com site without the onerous tag of stealing another person’s bandwidth, which, indeed, is a legitimate concern when the other person is paying for bandwidth. Looking at the few earlier Reblogs I have done, I do not find a single image from those Reblogs in my own site’s Media Library and, therefore, can only conclude that those images are being hotlinked from the original WordPress.com site.
In that context, let’s revisit that Staff reply (and the added emphasis is mine):
… is intended behavior at this time. We do this intentionally to prevent unwanted changes to reblogged posts.
I read that to mean that WordPress.com’s concern here is not to break a Reblog should the original content be removed or changed by the original post creator, from whose site the images were previously hotlinked.
Under the WordPress.com Terms of Service :
By submitting Content to Automattic for inclusion on your Website, you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting your blog. If you delete Content, Automattic will use reasonable efforts to remove it from the Website, but you acknowledge that caching or references to the Content may not be made immediately unavailable.
The Staff reply above would appear to contradict the last part of that clause about “caching or references to the Content may not be made immediately unavailable.” If I choose to delete or change or transfer my content elsewhere, I certainly would not want my original content to continue to appear on someone else’s WordPress.com’s website. Furthermore there is nothing in the Terms of Service that I see which condones copying and transferring my images to someone else’s website.
Is WordPress.com now going to be responsible for removing images from each and every website’s Media Library that acquired them through reblogging? Can WordPress.com guarantee that the re-blogger isn’t going to reuse those images in another manner that perhaps the original creator may not find acceptable?
And the only notification that Leanne received was the pingback notification that I had reblogged her original post on my test site. According to Leanne,
I had no idea that [Ed: image transference] was happening, my posts get reblogged all the time and that means there are so many copies of my images in so many other media libraries. Of course the worse thing is that you get asked to approve it, but it is too late and you can’t stop it. You should have that option to stop people from reblogging your posts.
As mentioned in my earlier post on the New Reblog WordPress.com site owners can now disable the Reblog button in their Dashboard’s Sharing Settings. However, this will affect only the Reblog button which appears in your posts, as well as in the WordPress.com Admin bar. It does not affect the Reblog button in the WordPress.com Reader, which will continue to show.
Sadly, however, this does not address the very legitimate additional concern about the wholesale copy and transfer of images from one site to another which is done without the knowledge and consent of the original copyright owner.
If this is not a bug, as Staff have indicated, it is very, very disconcerting.