In Which I Am Not Happy With Steve Greenleaf

A few days ago, I wrote a post, Great Cicero’s Ghost. It was part of a discussion of legal ethics, causes, and conflicts of interest, arising from this post by Charles Thomas (which in turn arose from this post by Scott Greenfield).

The discussion continued with Max Kennerly’s “thoughts” (“there’s no requirement for the utmost zeal in representation, so we know that there’s no absolute duty to make a particular argument just because it might confer some advantage on the client”), my response to Kennerly,  Matthew Wright’s view (to which I tried to respond, but failed because I’m stubborn about not signing in to wordpress.com to comment; I’ll blog about it later). This is all in the best disputatious tradition of the practical blawgosphere. Bruce Godfrey commented too, in an annoyingly selfrighteous passive-aggressive happyspherical “I’m going to tell you what people said but I’m not going to link to them” way.

You see what I did there? I mentioned some interesting posts, and I linked to them—whether I agree with them or not—so that you could go read them yourself. That is the way the blawgosphere works. Charles and Scott and Max and Matthew and even Bruce get a little bit of “link love”; my readers who are interested in reading their whole posts have to go their blogs, where Charles and Scott and Max and Matthew and even Bruce have a chance of capturing those readers’ attention with the other things that they have written. Writing is work, and I shouldn’t deprive Charles or Scott or Max or Matthew or even Bruce of eyeballs on their own blogs.

That’s not Steve Greenleaf’s style. A self-styled “freelance lawyer,” Greenleaf copies someone’s entire blog post and republishes it on his blog with a paragraph or so of his own commentary above it. He does link to the original, which makes him a little better than those who copy others’ blog posts and republish them without linking to the original.

This is not how the blawgosphere works. Reprinting someone else’s content in its entirety is the wrong thing to do. Someone other than Greenleaf put work into every post that he copies; he has no right to steal that work by publishing it on his own site, either with attribution or without.

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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10 Responses to In Which I Am Not Happy With Steve Greenleaf

  1. Bruce says:

    Hi Mark. It’s your blog and your rules – that’s what owning things means – but I assure you: not getting a link from out of state isn’t a “deprivation” to me. Whatever the “happy sphere” is precisely, neither it nor any out-of-state blog moves the needle for my kids, my active files, my balance sheet or my prostate.

    Feel free not to link to me going forward. Really, you aren’t doing me any damage.

    • Mark Bennett says:

      This is probably true. But if you blog for your kids, your active files, your balance sheet, or your prostate, experience shows that you probably won’t keep blogging for long.

  2. Dear Mr. Bennett,
    I’m sorry that I have offended you. My comments on your post (and it inclusion in my blog) were intended as compliment, at least implicitly, as something worth reading. I’ve wondered about the practice of including a whole post when I comment on a post rather than simply providing a link, as I have done in virtually all my prior posts (on my other blogs). In this blog, for many topics, I’ve thought that my reflections on some other blogs–longer than a tweet and something more than a comment on the original site–should include the whole blog for the convenience of the reader. I expected that the format of the post would provide sufficient attribution of the original work for which you and others deserve appropriate credit. That you have taken offense gives me pause, and you may be assured that I will not include any whole posts from you in the future. I will also consider whether this might give offense to others (none have contacted me).

    Sincerely yours,
    Steve Greenleaf

    • Mark Bennett says:

      That nobody has contacted you does not make it right. If you steal fifty people’s hubcaps, and only one of them reports it to the police, is stealing hubcaps okay? Of course not. If you don’t have permission, it’s stealing.

      Ask for permission; those who see it as “a compliment” (the first refuge of the content thief) will give permission.

  3. The analogy to stealing hubcaps would work if the hubcaps in question had been left out in public with a sign that said “Take one – free.” It’d be more like “stealing” if your content were behind a paywall, or if he’d posted your content under his own byline without attribution.

    No one person gets to dictate “how the blawgosphere works.” People blog for different reasons, with varying goals and purposes that may not coincide with your own. There’s nothing wrong with that. You explicitly see your blog as contributing to and promoting a “disputatious tradition” among criminal defense lawyers, but that’s not the only reason people do it. Speaking only for myself, I often use Grits the way I formerly used a hard-copy clip file. (Doug Berman does the same thing.) Sometimes my goal is simply to save some interesting argument or fact bite for later use in a political context that may not arrive for years, at which time the content frequently is no longer be available online. How many CDL blogs that you used to read have gone by the wayside and their content become unavailable?

    Finally, Greenleaf wasn’t saying that republishing your content per se was intended as a “compliment” but that his commentary in the post was complimentary, as it was (“could serve as a checklist in building a case of persuasion” …). You’re entitled to your opinions but my opinion is that this item and your followup comments were unfair and overly harsh.

    • Mark Bennett says:

      I was describing, not prescribing. Nowhere on blogs do I see signs saying, “go ahead, copy freely,” but if you want to put such a notice on your blog that’s your call. I’ve had calls from people asking for permission to repost blog posts in full. That is (and moreover should be) the default.

      That Greenleaf can’t be bothered to call and ask—that he assumes it is okay—is in my view a symptom of a great cultural disease of entitlement. You’re not entitled to copy and republish other people’s work wholesale, with or without attribution.

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