As the Social Media Alternatives Project starts taking shape, one of the key considerations has to be copyright and intellectual property. The S-MAP archive will be a collection of screenshots of interfaces drawn from a wide range of alternative social media. These screenshots will thus capture design elements, including navigation, structure, and logos.
We live in what Lawrence Lessig has aptly called a “culture of permission”; that is, we live in a time where we feel as if we have to ask permission to engage with media objects. Is it ok if I quote this source? Is it ok if I share this picture? Is it ok if I post a video of my kid dancing to a Prince song to YouTube?
Alternatively, however, there is another way of thinking about our use of digital media: the Fair Use approach. Fair Use, broadly speaking, is an exception in copyright law that allows for new, transformative, or critical uses of digital media. And the key to Fair Use is that we don’t have to ask permission to use such materials in these ways.
The S-MAP will thus have to be an exercise in Fair Use. I cannot seek permission from each and every alternative social media site to post screenshots of their interfaces.
To think this through a bit further, I’ve consulted with Allyson Mower of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah. Together, we used the American Library Association’s Fair Use Evaluator to assess the S-MAP’s standing as a Fair Use project. Based on this assessment, I believe that the project is on solid ground as Fair Use.
If you want to see the results of the evaluation, see this PDF document.