Last night sometime, a blogosphere/social-media furore erupted (or maybe squabble is a better word) about who “owns” the comments that are made on blogs or on aggregators such as FriendFeed. At the center of the storm, not surprisingly, was Robert Scoble — who is either the John the Baptist or Typhoid Mary of social media, depending on your viewpoint. The unwitting trigger for the backlash was Rob La Gesse, a consultant who also writes a blog. And what did La Gesse do? He decided that he didn’t like the fact that comments about his blog posts were occurring on FriendFeed, so he deleted his account (see Rob’s comment below for clarification).

In doing so, however, La Gesse also removed all of the comments that had been posted — including some from Scoble (La Gesse says he didn’t know that would happen). The uber-blogger didn’t like that much: “@kr8tr you just deleted all MY comments. That was really nasty dude,” the Scobleizer said on Twitter. A heated discussion ensued both on Twitter, as well as on La Gesse’s blog and on FriendFeed. That in itself makes a statement about the fragmentation of comments that many people (including me) have written about in the past.

The big issue for Scoble, however, seemed to be that he felt he owned his comments — even if they appeared on a third-party service attached to a blog post from someone else. Does that make any sense? I’m not sure. It doesn’t feel right to me. I think if you comment on someone’s blog, or on a newspaper site like ours at the Globe and Mail, or on Slashdot or Craigslist or anywhere else for that matter, your comments effectively become public property. Not that the site owns them, but they are to some extent out of your control (although Disqus lets you edit them until someone else responds to them).

Robert says that he’s not mad any more, but the issue he has raised is an interesting one, I think. Who owns your comments on public sites like FriendFeed? Do you? Or are they public property?


I sent an email to FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit to see if he had any comment, and he said that this is the first time the subject has really come up. “In general, we want people to have control over their own feeds,” he said. “That said, it is unfortunate to have lost comments in cases such as this, rare as they may be. We’d like to make these comments available — it’s just a matter of finding the right ui.” Buchheit said that the comments haven’t been deleted, they just aren’t visible because they are no longer attached to anything, but that FriendFeed was working on a way to make them visible again.

About the author

Mathew 2429 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

62 Responses to “Does Robert Scoble “own” his comments?”
  1. If someone posts a comment, I would say that they DO own that comment. They can do whatever they want with it and if someone were to try and claim that comment as their own, I believe they would be in for trouble in most cases.

    On the flip side, just because you own it, doesn’t mean you have control of it (unless you posted it on a Disqus-enabled blog). This means that, at any time, the owner of the site that you posted on can delete it or move it. You handed it to them.

    This is the same as if you write something in any public place. The owner of that place has the write to remove your work. It may seem uncool, but it’s a possibility you should expect.

    This whole thing seems like a simple misunderstanding, though.

    * Scoble just wants his words to be seen since he bothered to type them.

    * La Gesse just wants the comments to stay on his blog and chose the best thing he knew to avoid just a problem in the future.

    * FriendFeed made no provisions to try and display data that no longer has a user associated with it, which seems to be a very valid design choice given how new it is.

  2. I'm not sure Scoble is claiming ownership of his comments. He is, however, right to call La Gesse on his actions. It did look like pretty bad form.

    • Thanks for the comment, Chris. I may have extrapolated a bit, but it
      seemed to me that Robert's initial outrage at the deletion of the
      comments, and the way he expressed that, made it clear that to some
      extent he felt that he owned them.

    • The “bad form”, if there is any, is surely on the part of FriendFeed, who created that code in the first place.

  3. For me, in a perfect world. I would get to manage, edit, delete, and export my comments from any third-party service like FriendFeed or Disqus.

    I believe that my ideas and thoughts that I put down should stay under my management. I also think I should have the right to comment wherever I want (which is usually wherever the best best discussion is).

    • I can sympathize, Shey — I would like to have that ability as well.
      But at the same time, I accept that once my comments have been made,
      to some extent they are out of my control.

      • Actually, this is one of the reasons that Disqus exists. While a publisher can control what shows on his site, the content creator, e.g. the commenter, should have full control on the entire piece of content.

        They should be able to delete or retain it, and most importantly take it with them. I may be a little late coming into this discussion, but I've been following it for a bit.

        We may put out a blog post on our stance regarding this matter.

        • Thanks, Daniel. I think for many people that's one of the appealing
          things about Disqus — that it lets you effectively aggregate (if not
          actually control) your comments regardless of where they are. Any
          chance you're working on something along those lines with FriendFeed?
          I wanted to install the FriendFeed comment plugin for my blog, but it
          doesn't play nice with Disqus.

          • The second stage of the FF integration is on its way.

            What's the problem with installing the FF plugin w/ Disqus?

          • It didn't seem to like it when I inserted the plugin code for the
            FriendFeed plugin next to the Disqus comments (and by “it” I mean my
            blog's theme) but I may have screwed it up somehow. I'm planning to
            try again.

          • Happy to help however I can then.

          • Figured it out — I had an old version of the plugin, so I upgraded and fiddled with it a bit and everything works great now.

          • It has to be your theme, because I have both on my blog co-existing nicely.

          • I haven't had any problems running both, btw….

          • Thanks, Sarah — I got it working. Not sure what the problem was, but
            it disappeared when I upgraded the FF comment plugin.

      • Guess I should have finished my thought :|

        I do think the blogger should be able to delete unwanted comments, and if wants to delete the post and take the comments with him, that's fine too. I wouldn't expect a blogger to give me my WordPress or Blogger comments back. That's why I like Disqus, because to an extent, it gives me more control over my comments (I know that Disqus firmly states the comments belong to the blogger).

        But if my comments are on a third-party site, that's a whole other ball game.

  4. Just to clarify – my issue was NOT that comments were on FF. My issue was that Robert expected me to carry on the conversation over on FriendFeed, and NOT on my own blog. I chose to to keep my participation in the conversation on my blog, to which Robert toldme some like “if I don;t want the comments on FF, revove your feed from FF”. Which I did. I had no idea his comments would be affected (or, in fact, even that he left comments on FF – I had not looked at the FF thread at that point.

    So *I* did NOT delete any comments. I removed my feed(s) from the FF service. What they did about the “orphaned comments” at that point was not a decision I could a) control, or was b) made aware of.

    Also – my blog has specifically stated my comment policy (http://lagesse.org/tou/) for a couple of years. Perhaps FF should do the same.

    • Thanks for clarifying that, Rob. For what it’s worth, I’ve added some
      comments from FriendFeed founder Paul Buchheit, and from the sounds of
      it they are looking at different ways of handling comments when
      someone deletes their account.

  5. It does raise the question, however, of what happens when a blog owner deletes their blog. Do the commentors “own” their comments on someone else’s blog? I don’t think so.

  6. Generally I think scoble is spot on. But this time – WAY off. If you leave a comment on my blog post – I can delete it. Same if it’s a comment on something under my FriendFeed account.

    Here’s the really annoying part. Am I supposed to leave a comment here, friendfeed, twitter, all of them.

    I like to make time for social media – but I prefer it when new tools make it seamless, not add to my list of things to do.

    • I agree, Dave — it’s a pain to have to go and track comments
      everywhere. That’s why it’s handy to have integration like
      FriendFreed with Twitter and Disqus with FriendFeed and both
      integrated with WordPress, etc.

  7. Thanks for the link love!

    I really do think that we are at a point where a lot of this stuff will end up being defined. When Louis Gray asked if I could delete comments, I didn’t answer, because it’s a loaded question. I don’t own the one blog people associate me with. And no, most of our authors cannot delete comments. As an editor, I have rights to delete spam, but because it is not my blog, I neither delete nor edit anyone’s comments other than my own. I simply mark anything as spam that is obvious, and anything questionable I leave there.

    With WordPress, if users register, then they have the right to edit their own comments. If they don’t, then the only one with control is a blog admin, but there is still no established owner. I think that the entire world of creatives is at a tipping point, but we have no idea where it will tip.

    There is a concept of “fair use” being touted that has nothing whatsoever to do with actual fair use. I attempted to explain fair use to someone who had lifted an entire article to publish on their blog (because it was “interesting”) and was instead vilified in the comments as mean, and nasty, and told that the author of the original content was “lucky” that someone had reposted it on their blog. Lucky!

    The problem with the fractured conversation is the web’s current reliance on ad revenue and pageviews as a measure of success. As long as people’s income is reliant on ads, this conversation will continue to take place. Scoble has a corporate sponsor. Louis Gray blogs for fun. The rest of us are at the mercy of the market, and come at it from a much different angle.

    • There’s no question that we’re living in one gigantic grey area as far
      as fair use is concerned, Cyndy — and you’re quite right that the
      advertising model is part of the problem. The only reason I might be
      concerned about someone taking my content is that they could use it to
      generate advertising revenue and thereby deprive me of the same (and
      some people, like Mike Masnick at Techdirt, don’t worry about it even
      in that case). I still think — or maybe hope — that we are coming
      to a time when intellectual “property” means a lot less than it used
      to. Ideas aren’t something that can be owned, IMO.

      • If we eliminate the concept that ideas can be owned, where does that leave us, though? There's no copyright, no trademarks, no patents, and that brings us to a utopian ideal of communism. Problem is that people can't seem to function under that model. I keep hearing this argument that music should be free and writing should be free, and we are changing the definitions, but tell that to big pharma: they should open-source their drug research! Or Adobe should open-source all their code for Photoshop and Illustrator. It isn't really happening, but the echo chamber claims it is. If people shut off their laptops and looked at the rest of the world, they'd realize just because they say it, doesn't make it happen.

        • Fair enough, Cyndy. But I would argue that it has always been
          delusional to say that ideas can be owned. They can't — and the
          screwed-up nature of the U.S. Patent Office when it comes to
          conceptual patents is just one example of why.

          The specific implementation of an idea can and should be ownable, and
          that covers pharmaceuticals and all sorts of other inventions. And
          I'm not saying copyright shouldn't exist; I just think there needs to
          be a balance between the right of the content creator and the right of
          everyone else to make fair use of that content in some way.

          All the Web does is force us to confront those kinds of issues a lot
          more directly than we have in the past.

  8. […] new questions. Steven Hodson shared his thoughts and writes a nice round-up of what Colin Walker, Mathew Ingram and Cyndy think should be […]

  9. […] Mathew Ingram quite rightly pointed out as well that maybe once you make those comments on a 3rd party site like FriendFeed they are no longer yours much like how Robert has argued that once he has posted on his blog it is no longer his – anyone remember his statement to bloggers – “your content is no longer yours”. How is this case of comments any different? […]

  10. i'd like to think I own my comments!! Priceless as they are* Something I'm gonna have to look into on one o the other Sites* ;))

  11. […] copyright claims on my chat logs? Am I infringing copyright if I forward an email I receive? Who owns the comments on a blog? Do music royalties make sense […]

  12. This is completely hypocritical of Scoble.

    He's changed service providers for his blog or his blog comments a couple of times over the years and made *no* effort to bring the old comments over during each transition, effectively throwing the comments away.

  13. […] Following this event bopping around the blogosphere. […]

  14. […] (all comments disappear), Robert Scoble declares that he owns his comments, Mathew Ingram asks if Scoble owns his comments, Hank Williams calls for a comment copyright mechanism, Fred Wilson points to Disqus, Disqus posts […]

  15. […] Ingram does a nice job highlighting the key issues that were raised this week on that question, but the whole conversation took a turn for the bizarre […]

  16. […] find people arguing over who “owns” comments place on a blog page. Mathew Ingram does a nice job highlighting the key issues that were raised this week on that question, but the whole conversation took a turn for the bizarre […]

  17. I think it really depends on what the Terms of Service, Acceptible Use Policy, or other terms on the the site say. And in that respect, if you don't like the terms, don't comment. And it follows that if you didn't familiarize yourself with the terms, then you can't complain later if they disappear or are edited.

  18. […] the comments, and whether FriendFeed should do a better job of keeping records…Mathew Ingram reached out to FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit, who noted the bias is toward blogger control of their feeds […]

  19. […] read this interesting post on WebProNews, Who Owns Blog Comments, which evolved from this post (and perhaps others). Strong opinions on either side and, of course, the Solomon-like compromising […]

  20. Easy one. The commentor owns the comment and the blog owner is given the right or license to display the comment publicly on their blog. With the right to display the comment comes the corresponding right to un-display or delete the comment.

  21. […] idea of comment ownership reached the foreground last week in the form of a blogger spat between famed blogger Robert Scoble and Texas-based consultant and blogger Rob La Gesse. An […]

  22. I guess the coder of FriendFeed is the one to blame.

  23. The “bad form”, if there is any, is surely on the part of FriendFeed, who created that code in the first place.

  24. The second stage of the FF integration is on its way.

    What's the problem with installing the FF plugin w/ Disqus?

  25. Scoble is crazy indeed

  26. I also think that people who comment on blogs should have exclusive rights to their own comments.

  27. Great article, man. Keep up the good work and please do keep sharing.

    Thanks in advance!


  28. Great Post! Keep up the good work! Bookmarked your blog for future reference.

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  33. […] Mathew Ingram quite rightly pointed out as well that maybe once you make those comments on a 3rd party site like FriendFeed they are no longer yours much like how Robert has argued that once he has posted on his blog it is no longer his – anyone remember his statement to bloggers – “your content is no longer yours”. How is this case of comments any different? […]

  34. […] (all comments disappear), Robert Scoble declares that he owns his comments, Mathew Ingram asks if Scoble owns his comments, Hank Williams calls for a comment copyright mechanism, Fred Wilson points to Disqus, Disqus posts […]

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