Tobold's Blog
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Printing the internet

There is an old joke about some CEO who heard about how the internet was going to be the next big thing and asked his secretary to print it out for him so he could have a look for himself. I was thinking of that joke when Blogger waved an advertisement for Blog2Print under my nose. That service takes any blog RSS feed, and converts it into a printed book. So if I wanted, I could print out my blog.

Sounds nice, but there are some problems. The obvious one is volume of content, leading to cost. I created an example "book" from my blog feed just for one year, 2009, without comments, and the book had over 500 pages, and would cost $200 in soft cover to print out. Then of course the entries of a blog in their original order do not make a good book at all, because for example the chapters on my characters in WoW aren't subsequent, but interrupted by blog entries on other games, or about blogging, or other subjects.

The less obvious problem is intellectual property. Morally speaking the content on my blog is my intellectual property, but technically it is in the public domain. Thus if YOU want my blog in print, there is nothing to prevent you to pay those $200 to Blog2Print to have all my posts of 2009 in a nice softcover volume to read in the train. But I wont see a single cent of that money, it will be the Blog2Print people who keep it all. That seems somewhat unfair to me, even if legally there isn't anything I could do about it. And technically the only thing I could do to prevent it is to shut down my RSS feed, but that would close out half of my readers.
You could always kill the internet.

But then no one would be able to read anything we write. :(
Caveat IANAL:

My understanding of US Code (Title 17, the Copyright Act) is that even if you do not explicitly copyright your content, you as the author of the work still have complete copyright of your content, and any property you’ve created. The law applies to non-citizens as well, such as stateless persons (someone without citizenship of any nation). Just mentioning this since I’m in the US.

Of coure, you’d have to take such a complaint to civil court. But even if you scribble something on a napkin, regardless of whether you’ve explicitly copyrighted the material, whatever was scribbled on that napkin is still under your copyright and does not belong in public domain.

Of course none of that addresses issues of fair use, or public domain. For example, someone quoting your blog for an article, research paper, or scholastic work is protected by fair use. Still, I think a model that pays a profit to a company to make derivative works of copyrighted material without explicit permission from the author is pretty cut, and dry as being a violation of the US Copyright Act.

I’m sure it’s different in Europe, EU, UK, other places, and whatnot. YMMV, &c.

Such a service maybe on a shaky legal ground though.
Actually, your posts are public, but they're not in the public domain unless you explicitly state they are (or they fall out of the duration of protection on copyright). I don't see it marked on any page that you've put your posts into the public domain.

I only know U.S. law well (with the standard disclaimer that I'm not a lawyer and this isn't legal advice), but you automatically own copyright of any work you create. If you register the copyright, then you have additional protections. You could stop someone from printing off a book from your RSS feed by claiming copyright infringement. Things may be different in your country, but copyright protection is pretty standardized in most countries by this point.

Again, if you're really worried about this, consult a intellectual property lawyer in your country.
"The less obvious problem is intellectual property. Morally speaking the content on my blog is my intellectual property, but technically it is in the public domain. Thus if YOU want my blog in print, there is nothing to prevent you to pay those $200 to Blog2Print to have all my posts of 2009 in a nice softcover volume to read in the train. But I wont see a single cent of that money, it will be the Blog2Print people who keep it all. That seems somewhat unfair to me, even if legally there isn't anything I could do about it. "

I'm not sure this is correct. Copyright is automatic, as stated in wikipedia "In all countries where the Berne Convention standards apply, copyright is automatic, and need not be obtained through official registration with any government office."
See the full article at:

So I'm not at all sure Blog2Print can print your blog content for money without your approval as copyright holder. Public domain != no copyright. Of course IANAL :)
Intellectual property rights aren't some natural law like gravity. The concept wasn't codified until the end of the 19th century, so we've only had to put up with it for just over a century and with luck we are close to seeing its demise.

There are other arguments for product rights in other spheres of industry, but for pure creative rights (music, art, literature etc) the moral imperative has to be creation, period, not financial reward. If you don't feel you have been sufficiently recompensed for your time and effort by the satisfaction of the act of creation itself then, frankly, you shouldn't be creating.

Similarly, if you have a problem with your creation being copied and distributed by others who admire it or find it worthwhile, then you shouldn't make it publicly available in the first place.

If you decide to move from creation to distribution and thereby earn money from the service you provide, that's another matter. You are being paid for your work there in the same way a van driver gets paid for delivering to your house. But to expect a permanent series of discrete payments simply for having committed the act of creation itself, every time the thing you created is reproduced, no. No moral right to that exists or should exist.

The big problem with that attitude is plagiarism. It's one thing to say you should be satisfied simply by the act of creation, it's another to say you should still be satisfied when someone steals your work and passes it off as their own.
Still... if for some reason you wanted to keep a copy of your blog that isn't subject to server crashes, hard drive failures or hacking, $200 is probably cheaper than you could print it out yourself once you factor in the costs of paper and ink for your printer. And it would likely be a nicer presentation than you could do for yourself.
In the U.S., you own the copyright to all the original work of your blog. Period. Even info that you copied from another site is your copyright if you presented it in an original manner.
I think the number 7 in your terms of service covers this. I understand that I can print (and sell) a book indicating that you are the author.
There is a difference between the copyright on your work (and you own that) and a right to forbid me to print out your blog for my own use.

The two are completely unrelated.

Are you saying someone may not print out your blog if they wanted to? All print2blog does it offer a service for someone's convenience.

They do not print your blog and sell it on the market as their own. Of course with the in-demand-printing the boundaries get murkier and murkier.

In the end I think you and everyone else would need to clearly mark the blog as being not allowed to be reproduced in print under any circumstances. Otherwise common sense and fair use would be assumed.
just occurred to me - with your reasoning not even you - the author of the blog - would be allowed to print a book with the comments included - unless you had the explicit permission of everyone who made those comments... quite impossible no?

Make no mistake the copyright is still yours - just as the copyright on this comment is mine.

Just don't confuse owning the copyright with the right to get paid for your content.
...and Blog2Print is a U.S. company by the way.
Well, the relevant part here in my Terms of Service, paragraph 7 is: "I do not have the time or resources to start any sort of legal action if you steal my stuff."

Even if Blog2Print is a US company, and US copyright says my writings belong to me, I have no means to do anything to enforce those copyrights. Much bigger companies failed to protect their copyrights on the internet.

If you visit the site, you'll see that they are never asking for some sort of proof that you are the owner. You can print out any blog you like, using any title you like, and put your own name on the front cover if you want to.

But well, I'm counting on nobody actually WANTING to pay $200 for 500 pages of my writings from 2009. :) do a similar thing, but it looks like you would have to format it more,
b/w text 401-440 pages AUD $19.95 and you can sell them in the bookstore, I think If I ever said goodbye to my blog I would like to do that, make it into a book... but just for me,
I would just ask them to stop doing it personally, although there isn't much legal action you can do (or have enough money for) a word goes pretty far.

You raise an interesting point, Tobold, as do the commenters above.

While this is in no way MMORPG-related, I run a rather large creative writing community called Protagonize and I've seen this issue crop up repeatedly with various online printing and self-publishing services.

While I'm unfamiliar with Blog2Print and their practices (who knows, they could be shady or they could be on solid legal footing), I think a lot of it boils down to exactly at which point in the process the money is being made — a subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless.

I'm dealing with a local (to me) company that's part of a larger publishing house here in Vancouver, and their online self-publishing mechanism is based on a print-on-demand system where the only money they earn is a surcharge on printing fees. In essence, they're not making money off the work being published or off of the author, they take their cut as a very slight markup on the cost of printing. Since they're involved with a publishing firm, they get wholesale rates on print runs, so they add their markup there as a flat fee. People using their service can then add on their own markups and resell printed works online, but they need to own the content being printed, or it needs to be published under a Creative Commons License. If not, then the original author of the work would need to be compensated in some way.

I'm looking at using their service (which I won't name here as I don't want to misrepresent them in any way) to offer authors on my site the ability to self-publish their works, and I'm reasonably comfortable with their approach.

As they explained it to me, it's a much more stable and legitimate business model than what Blog2Print seems to be doing. This is just from my personal experience, though, so as with the above posters, YMMV.
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