Meta Question

Mtl_zack's avatar

Does Fluther own our questions?

Asked by Mtl_zack (6756points) June 1st, 2009

This whole discussion in the blog has got me thinking…
When I submit a question, am I giving up my intellectual property to Fluther? Can I “claim” my question back? Can Fluther potentially sell a question that I asked?


Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

58 Answers

psyla's avatar

All questions asked on Fluther can be purchased at usually for less than a dollar each. All proceeds upgrade Fluther servers and you have agreed to this in your Fluther License Agreement as Fluther is a free service provided to you.

MacBean's avatar


jrpowell's avatar


“Any content posted on this site may be used by Fluther for any purpose.”

Kinda sounds like they own your stuff after you post it. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

psyla's avatar

@MacBean you’ve had more whiskey than me. I think you meant to say that my Base belongs to Bendrew.

MacBean's avatar

@psyla I’m pretty sure I said exactly what I meant.

Edit: Do you have any booze, though? I could use some. I’ve had A Day.

psyla's avatar

What is my “base” then, & are ben & andrew really the same person? I’m drinking Jack Daniels. How about you, are you drinking?

phoenyx's avatar

When you post a question to Fluther, it belongs to Fluther, but you get the credit. They put your name and picture right next to the question. When Maholo uses the question, you don’t get any credit. That’s what I find to be irksome.

oratio's avatar

I am not sure why it would matter.

phoenyx's avatar


Ivan's avatar


JoeAndrieu's avatar

No. The questioner owns the question. Fluther just has the rights to do anything they want with it. They do NOT gain a right to stop others, such as Mahalo, from using it.

That said, Mahalo should definitely attribute it to either Fluther or the original questioner.

oratio's avatar

@JoeAndrieu You just created an account and came up with all of that?

psyla's avatar


psyla's avatar

Sorry. I attribute this to @Ivan I keep forgetting to attribute my comments to someone. Thank you, @Ivan !

andrew's avatar

The copyright is a sensitive thing. We have been wanting to switch to a standard CC license, but the most important item of contention is that when you post content on the site, you can’t remove it if you delete your account—since that would totally disrupt old discussions. If anyone can help me with this, I’m more than willing to amend the terms.

We take the same tack with privacy—allowing as much control over people’s content as we can without jeopardizing the experience of everyone else.

Crusader's avatar

This site is a product of Big Brother, look out…

JoeAndrieu's avatar

Have you read Facebook’s new TOS? They wrestled with the same thing.

Personally, I think users should be given a choice to delete questions and answers, at any time, including when they leave. I can delete my Tweets, why not my Fluthers?

What you might do is ask nicely to keep them when users leave (even having that as the default is ok, as long as the delete option is obvious). I would also suggest offering to anonymize a question for those who no longer want the question associated with their name.

Jeruba's avatar

@psyla, do you mean “address”? If you address them to him, you are saying that you direct them to him—they’re for him. If you attribute them to him, you are saying that he wrote them.

YARNLADY's avatar

the owner has the right to buy, sell, or otherwise make use of your answers and questions. If you choose to “own” your content the owner can grant you the right, upon your request. You do not own the rights to any content on Fluther that you do not produce.

Jeruba's avatar

@andrew, is the question the right to delete content or the right to reuse it elsewhere in one’s own name? I would not think anyone who is concerned about anonymity would ever want to reuse his or her own comments elsewhere verbatim because that is tantamount to outing yourself—or exposing yourself to a charge of plagiarism if you deny the identity. Are you anticipating situations where a user wants the right to delete original content, or what is the contentious issue?

psyla's avatar

@Jeruba I was referring to how @JoeAndrieu said that @Mahalo was, in some way, using other’s comments. I illustrated how ridiculous it would be if we had to refer to the original expressor of every thought that we have. Imitation is flattery. Most Internet forums don’t permit withdrawal of one’s posts. It’s the nature of the net to retain written thoughts even if the expression is later regretted. Verbalizations can’t be taken back once spoken. The Internet is about sharing, it’s not about owning. The digital rights fiasco is bringing out greed & selfishness. Say what you got to say & move on. Are your words so valuable that they carry a market value? People with this selfish mindset are so arrogant & self-serving.

oppositionradio's avatar

you can simply join – kinda oldschool – but i don’t think @matthowie is going to sell your question or complain that fluther is stealing his idea.

jrpowell's avatar

Actually, ask.metafilter has been around a long time. It might not be bad for Andrew and Ben to browse some threads from metatalk to see what Matt has to say on the subject. This has been discussed to death over there and many lawyers have chimed in. Lawyers hired by Matt and ones that are users of the site.

psyla's avatar

When are they ever going to legalize brain graft leases? I’d like to lease a 6-month brain-graft from the temporal lobe of @Jeruba, because, honestly, she’s alot smarter than me.

Jeruba's avatar

@psyla, I was referring to this statement:

“Sorry. I attribute this to @Ivan I keep forgetting to attribute my comments to someone.”

If you don’t mean “address,” what are you attributing to Ivan? I guess it doesn’t matter that I don’t understand your remark, but I was trying to follow it.

JoeAndrieu's avatar

@psyla You’re overstating the situation. You don’t have to refer to the “original expressor for every thought that we have”. You may not know who that is.

But you do have to refer to whomever you got that idea or phrase from, if it isn’t an independent thought. If you don’t, it is plagiarism. If you copy a concrete work (writing, sculpture, photograph, etc.) for business gain, it is copyright violation. It’s ethics and law, both. And it is uncool. Give credit where credit is due.

The Internet’s “culture of sharing” doesn’t override the law or ethics. And, if we want the Internet to continue to scale, we need to deal with issues of user control and authority. Denying anyone control is just exuberant iconoclasm—knock down everyone just because we don’t like the current authority figures.

Systems that maximize user value by maximizing user control and authority will win in the long run. That maxim has driven most of the major innovation in communications in the last 20 years. YouTube is more user-driven than TV. Blogs are more user-driven than Newspapers. The Internet is more user-driven than AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy.

We haven’t figured it all out, but more user-driven is better. So figure out how to put users in charge and good will come of it.

psyla's avatar

@Jeruba, I was being honest, not sarcastic! I read some of your posts & they’re quite insightful! While writing, quick! I had to pick someone smart!

@JoeAndrieu very well said. Good point. With your same scrutiny, could this concept apply to US economy repair? Seems like it could.

Jeruba's avatar

@psyla, your remark made me laugh. What an idea! I can think of lots of brains I’d like to rent a unit in for a while. There’s that unused 85% we always hear about. Seems like we ought to be able to lease some of it. Suddenly I’m thinking of Being John Malkovitch. Imagine the commercial potential of week-long vacation rentals in various people’s brains!

JoeAndrieu's avatar

@psyla yep. We’ve been working over at on ideas to do just that: reinvent the marketplace through User Driven Services ( It is still early, though. Lots of work yet to be done.

andrew's avatar

@johnpowell Oh, that’s a great idea. it’s been a while since I’ve been back on mefi.

@JoeAndrieu I think the paradigms of Facebook and Fluther are very different, both in the realms of public and private and what it means to create content there; we allow people to remove their profiles, but not delete all their posts and discussions—since instead of the notion of “this is my identity, my page, my friends” the notion is more “let me participate in a discussion”. It’s a fine line between individual ownership and collective use, and public and private.

@Jeruba We want to make sure that everyone, including us, makes sure to attribute the original author when we reference it on another site. When we do interviews, we make sure that if the newpaper (or whatever) is going to quote a discussion, they make sure to cite the author.

The whole hubbub is causing use to reevalute our terms. As always, we welcome the thoughts.

JoeAndrieu's avatar

@andrew The paradox is that the more control you give to the user, the more they want to stay and play. The services that give users more control—such as deleting any and all their contributions at any point—will attract more users because people are more comfortable contributing when they feel in control.

I appreciate the distinction you are making with Facebook, but there really are only two types of “conversations” that have any longstanding tradition in western culture: actual oral discussions and printed or written discourse, such as in letters or books. The Internet blurs those lines, with more permanence than our voice, but less than the printed page.

However, the flexibility is there for services to give users control, if we choose to design our systems that way.

I believe that those services that do give users control will win in the long run, all else being equal. If people appreciate being a part of a permanent or ongoing conversation, then they will let you keep their questions and comments. But for those who change their mind or who prefer to contribute on a more ephemeral basis… only those services who allow deleting will be able to retain those users. At the moment, the lack of deletability is keeping folks from posting because “it’ll be out there FOREVER”.

You might consider that this is a HUGE issue for people who post things to Facebook only to regret it later in their careers. Or people who undergo major life changes (such as transgender operations) and have to jump through insane hoops to redact their former online presence so they can live the life they now choose to live. If we, as users, had the ability to revise or delete our online contributions EVERYWHERE, a whole range of frustrating, alienating, and limiting obstacles go away.

Making things user-driven isn’t necessarily easy—especially for existing services. It challenges a lot of prior assumptions about business models and value propositions. But I do think it’s pretty straightforward: in a world where everyone has nearly infinite choice—like the Internet—people will choose services where they have the most control, all else being equal.

andrew's avatar

@JoeAndrieu I completely see your point, and agree.

There’s an inherent tension, though, between the needs of the individual and the needs of the system. Doesn’t allowing, say, a user to change their username indefinitely erode the reputation system of a site like this? What about allowing users to change their sign-in date? Or their point total?

I realize some of that is silly, but I think one of the difficulties in running a communal website is deciding what is and isn’t mutable.

Another difference between Facebook and other sites: it’s much more closely tied to your identity—it uses your real name. I would argue that it’s possible for people to remain anonymous on a site like fluther—you have control over your identity.

I love your example of a transgendered person struggling with re-establishing an online identity. What I’m still grappling with is how much is that the user’s responsibility to manage their own identity, and how much of that is the responsibility of the tools they use?

Does fluidity have a price?

cyn's avatar

did anyone even read the terms and use/condition of this website?
i know i didn’t…shhhh…

YARNLADY's avatar

@cyndihugs I did, but I can’t see anywhere they have anything to do with my participation, so I largely ignore whatever I don’t understand.

jrpowell's avatar

I would like to add that when I stated my discomfort for the current terms I was more worried about things like:

1: Using something I wrote outside of my comment. Like using it on a Fluther tee-shirt without my permission. But that isn’t really a worry since most of my stuff is bad jokes and profanity. I would totally agree to them using it. But I would like to be asked first. And I trust them to do just that.

2: As another example. A few questions have been asked about movie scripts, and ideas for them. I have provided ideas and would be super pissed if they actually got made by a major studio without compensation. As it is now Ben and Andrew would own the idea. I couldn’t sue without going through them. I know the odds of that are so slim but it was a example of why I would like something better then “Fluther owns it.”

Edited to add :: This has been on the slashdot footer for years.

“All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners. Comments are owned by the Poster. The Rest © 1997–2009 SourceForge, Inc. ”

psyla's avatar

@YARNLADY I suppose it’s better to ignore what one doesn’t understand than to misinterpret it. Most people apply their own worldview on things they can’t grasp so everything becomes a mirror, reflecting themselves when really it is something else entirely.

Anonimity is generally the key to a successful web experience. Identity is a valuable, pilferable asset. Why offer one’s identity to stangers? Don’t you hate it when some stranger cutting your hair starts asking personal questions? Why broadcast all your personal facts on the Internet? Is it pride?

ragingloli's avatar

not according to the german constitution, no

psyla's avatar

The German Constitution says it’s not pride?

I like the case where a server owner was financially benefiting by reading emails from others passing through his servers and investing, using the info. Courts ruled the emails passing through were his property while in his server & he could legally read them and use the financial info in them.

ragingloli's avatar

acording to the constitution, i have the right of informational self determination, meaning i can decide what information about me or what i give out can be used elsewhere by someone else.
in this case, if fluther decides that it wants to sell my info/questions to someone else, it is my right to deny them that. if they had already done so, it would be my right to demand from the receiver that they delete it immediately. and they both would be legally bound to do so.
unfortunately, fluther doesn’t fall under german jurisdiction.

ragingloli's avatar

The case you describe would be a clear breach of secrecy of correspondence according to article 10 of the german constitution and is punisheable under §202 of the german penal code (StGB) with either jail of up to one year or a fine, if it is not punisheable under §206.
If he is the owner of a company, then he is violating §206, and that would be punisheable with jail up to 5 years or a fine.

JoeAndrieu's avatar

@andrew I agree, the tension is inevitable; think of it as the force that drives innovation.

Some of your points are about reputation… something the user doesn’t create, but rather it is bestowed by a community based on consistent behavior.

In many ways this is like the difference between my driving record and my name. I can change my name, but I can’t erase my driving record. So, the question for a reputation system isn’t about whether or not I can change my name. It’s about what are the appropriate and desired functions of community bestowed reputation? Should it be transferable to a new name?

I like to think of “Identity” as the set of identifiers we use to refer to people online. I wrote about that here, where I talk about four different kinds of identifiers used in online systems:authentication IDs, presentation IDs, reference IDs, and internal IDs. With that model, the question becomes what identifier does reputation adhere to? You could have a viable system with reputation adhered to the presentation ID, the reference ID, or to the internal ID. The latter would allow a user to use the same reputation with multiple handles (or names). Which is correct is a community defining choice.

So, I think you are grappling with the right issues. Every community has to set a framework for users to engage each other. As for whose responsibility it is: I suggest a two step best practice:

1. The system should do the right thing automatically, by default
2. Users should be able to override the default behavior without too much frustration

Your challenge is defining “the right thing” for the defaults. Do it well, and the system grows. Do it poorly and you alienate one group or another.

Jeff Jarvis, in What would Google Do talks about “Public by Default” and how powerful that is. I agree, while at the same time I think it is paramount to have deep support for privacy and for it to be easy to be private. I think Twitter is a good example of a simple and mostly acceptable way to do that. Tweets are public by default, but you can go private and you can block individuals, on top of the fundamental private/public mix of your “following” stream and search of the public stream.

Chris Anderson, who is about to release FREE talked at SXSW about building businesses that monetize just 5% of a large audience who participate in a free service. I think those same numbers apply here. If you build the community right, 95% of the folks are going to participate by the default rules that your community needs to work: public conversations, sustainable reputation, etc. Another 5% are going to be different. They’ll want to delete or opt-out or otherwise exert more control that normal. I think that’s ok. And it is probably sustainable. The community doesn’t need EVERYONE to contribute to the public discourse in an indelible permanent way. It just needs enough people to contribute consistently enough for people’s questions to be reliably answered. (And, no, I’m not suggesting you charge for that privilege, I was just highlighting that systems can be designed to support bi-modal populations.)

In any case, I like the way you guys have engaged on this question. I wish you luck figuring it out, and with the venture. =)

@johnpowell BTW, I think you could still sell your script idea. It’s just that Fluther could as well. It might be nice to limit the scope of the license in the TOS, but even as it is, their license to do anything with the content doesn’t prevent you from doing whatever you want to do. (Although you could get into a mess if you sell an exclusive right to someone and then Fluther does the same. If you think about the TwitPic of the plane crash in the Hudson, that scenario isn’t too far fetched.)

@ragingloli Actually, if you are using Fluther in Germany, Fluther is subject to German law. They may not yet be large enough for anyone to pay attention, but they are subject to the same laws, at least for their German users. Just ask eBay about international jurisdiction.

ragingloli's avatar

@JoeAndrieu that may be so, but there is no way to enforce it on a site that is only physically accessible in its home country.
some time ago, german law enforcement sent a cease and desist letter to careful, obscene content ahead, and guess what, the site owner didn’t care and is still up and running. and german law enforcement could do nothing.

jrpowell's avatar

@JoeAndrieu :: My concern is that the studio could say Fluther owns it. So they (Fluther) would have to sue. My hands would be tied.

And I know this is so crazy and would never happen. But, I would like to be able to file a lawsuit on my own.

JoeAndrieu's avatar

@johnpowell it’s still your copyright. Fluther just has a license to use it. So, you can file your own suit. The danger is that the studio could get a license from Fluther and get the suit dismissed. It would be nicer if the TOS constrained the usage to online use.

@ragingloli That may be. Enforcement isn’t always an easy thing.

wundayatta's avatar

Does reputation matter? If information wants to be free, perhaps it should all be stripped of authorship. I choose to be anonymous. No one who knows me in person knows that I am the person who writes daloonish crap. I’d be perfectly happy if noone could even tell if daloon wrote daloonish crap. Who knows what identity means when information flies freer than a momentumless asteroid in deep space. Oh well, that was a bit tortured, and probably doesn’t even say what I mean, but what the hey…

When I play music, people hear it once, and then it’s gone. All that remains is what is in people’s memory, and that fades fast. I think the same is true for comments here. A day or so later, if anyone even remembers an idea, they certainly won’t remember who claimed to have written it. Why not give into it? Recognize the ephemerality of discourse. It would allow us to approach each comment on its own, and to evaluate each comment without respect to authorship. It might have interesting results.

I would certainly put everyone on an even playing ground. You’d lose and gain reputation with each comment. It would become all about the information, and nothing about the people. Bios would become redundant. Absolute privacy would be ubiquitous, unless a commentator decided publicly link their comment with a real world address.

The result is a world without ownership. People might be tempted to say whatever they wanted to, but the moderators would still clean out the crap. They might have to use bigger shovels, but it could still work. In fact, the identity of a site would become based on editorial choices more than anything else.

Forward the Republic!

psyla's avatar

Interesting how our views about intellectual property & anonimity of identity will almost certainly be a far cry from our political views. Yet for some, both views will be consistent – their words are considered to be physical property. It seems we all draw the line somewhere between what we own & what we share.

YARNLADY's avatar

@daloon The words you type here are always available as long as Fluther remains accessable, and even beyond to the ‘way back’ machine. Anyone who wants to can go throught it, anytime. We can even access answers long after the user has passed away.

wundayatta's avatar

@YARNLADY I know that. Why did you mention it?

YARNLADY's avatar

@daloon didn’t you just say “All that remains is what is in people’s memory, and that fades fast. I think the same is true for comments here. A day or so later, if anyone even remembers an idea, they certainly won’t remember who claimed to have written it?” that’s what I was responding to

wundayatta's avatar

@YARNLADY You wrote: “Anyone who wants to can go through it, anytime.”

Who wants to? Who is going to spend the time doing that? Probably hardly anyone. Therefore, all that remains, is what is in people’s memories. I mean, I don’t remember what I wrote ten minutes ago, and I hardly ever bother to go back and find out.

YARNLADY's avatar

@daloon People are actually going through the things we write here and using them to ‘prove’ points, or stealing our words to sell their products, and to write ‘how to’ articles to get paid per click. The biggest sellers are the ones that deal with personal problems.

One of the claims to fame for the fluther type of site is the fact that there is a ‘forever’ database for people to use.

wundayatta's avatar

@YARNLADY Where are these things sold? How can our words sell products? And who, in their right mind, would pay attention to the personal advice of a bunch of amateur Abbys?

I sure do enjoy discussing personal problems, but anyone who is so foolish as to take my advice deserves what they get. I’m just shooting my mouth off, which should be obvious by the number of silly comments I make.

YARNLADY's avatar

WikiHow, and several other sites pay per click for articles, and the contributors to those and many other sites simply go through the ‘good’ sites, such as fluther and take what they want. Other sites give free advice, and they get paid by the advertisers to be on their site. They use any of our words they feel will fit their needs.

I’ve seen content that goes something like this: “So and so, of (Q & A site)says blah blah” on the ones that give credit, but others simply take whatever content they want to put on their site.

psyla's avatar

@daloon I’m no amateur Abby! I’m a professional Ann Landers, having achieved a Master’s Degree in Ethical Complications in the Lander’s College of Relationship Convolutions. I am fully qualified to help you deconvolute all your relationships.

wundayatta's avatar

Ok, @psyla, they should listen to you, since you know what you’re talking about. They shouldn’t listen to me, because I have no clue. So, when people ask you about your MDECLCRC, can you always remember what it stands for?

psyla's avatar

The only reason I made that comment was so websites would steal it & post it. It was a trap statement as bait for websites that steal everything I say.

No harm intended, @daloon I was just being idiotic as usual. Your comments are always insightful and/or entertaining.

wundayatta's avatar

@psyla Seriously, I always feel like my advice is kind of off the beaten path. Since it is kind of out of step with most people’s thoughts, I feel like I really have no clue compared to others. In my own mind, it is as you say: insightful.

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