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The Weblog Question

January 31, 2005

Writer John Foley raised some questions every blogger should be thinking about, in his Information Week article, The Weblog Question.  In very brief summation:

  • Depending on your employment contract, your employer may own copyright to any blog served on a company server, or

  • in come cases anything at all you write while an employee may belong to your employer
  • Or your employer may have an extremely broad definition of what constitutes “sensitive material”
  • Noncompete or nondisclosure rules may affect your blog
  • Many HR departments are just clueless or only beginning to grapple with employee-blog issues
  • RSS feeds may compromise your copyright ownership
  • The good news is that some companies are actually finding it to their advantage to have employees blogging

If you’re thinking, “I’m not really concerned about copyright issues on my blog” you may not have tested the temperature of the hot water you can land in for blogging about work…

It certainly has me thinking.  If your employer claims copyright to any of your work, they can certainly exert control over it.  For starters, that means you should serve your own blog – don’t use your employer’s server. 

I keep a mental tab of anecdotes of people who have ugly encounters between their blogs and their jobs.  Of these, Dooce is the most famous: her blog’s name is synonymous with “being fired for blogging.”  But if you read the entries in question (in her archives) it isn’t hard to understand why she was shown the door.  Never, even as a “joke,” trash any of your co-workers.

In my case, this is easy – you’d just have to know some of the people I work with to understand how fantastic they are.  I worked in private industry for 25 years before coming to The Universitytm and I can attest that the popular stereotype of the indifferent public servant is a myth. 

More problematic are the milder cases:

An employee of a Canadian parks bureau was fired for posting a picture of some litter along a roadway.  A Microsoft employee was fired for posting a picture of some Apple computers on a Microsoft loading dock.  And one stewardess was fired for writing about her work, even though she didn’t say anything negative and didn’t mention the name of her employer.

I never mention The Universitytm by name but it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out.  So please, don’t.  It doesn’t matter what university.  If you ask me privately, should you attend here, or send your kids here, or support my school, my answer is an unqualified “yes,” to all three questions.

The Universitytm, is a truly great place to work and a fine institution.  But there’s plenty to think about here that would be of interest in the broader sphere of design and administration. 

I could follow the Peoria Pundit‘s rule, which is: “Never blog about work.  Ever.”  But to pretend one-third of my life just doesn’t exist wouldn’t be very constructive either for me or for my employer.  Some companies (as discussed in the Information Week article) have found a great advantage to having employees who blog.  It often results in unexpectedly productive collaborations and innovation.

My solution (when I write about work) is to be as positive as humanly possible and to keep it global.  Not to make it about The Universitytm, or about any individuals, but about things that would be of interest to anyone, anywhere people live and work. 

And also, to hope that “academic freedom” is more than a slogan.  Because it certainly is, to me. 

Categories: Blogging, Geeky
  1. January 31, 2005 at 23:38 | #1

    As a blogger who not only uses his real name, but the host and domain name are my name, I have a general rule that I follow…

    I do not blog on work owned equipment (including the laptop they issued me), on company time, or about company business.

    I do blog about some of the technology I do in my day job, but in such a general way that it is not related to my employer…

    By the way, my boss reads my blog, and if I haven’t been caned yet…

    As for copyright and RSS, I use feedburner which includes my Creative Commons license in every feed, so my CC/(c) are valid, legal and if someone actualy bothered to steal something of mine against the license, I would call them names and throw cows in their general direction (And get the knights that say Nigh!)

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