Here's a reply about the sputtered-out discussion of listserv quotation manners
from the person whose query started the thread (Deborah Cameron, English and
Linguistics, Univ. of Strathclyde; email [log in to unmask]);
this mainly replies to some things said on the pacs list, but special mention
is made of our hero Cal Pryluck, so I am sending it to screen-l as well.
Again, as she is not a subscriber, I am sending her reply for her (and I am,
as letters used to close, Keith Nightenhelser, DePauw University
[log in to unmask]).
Thanks to everyone who's responded to my query about quoting messages
broadcast on the net. One thing is for sure, there is plenty of dispute
and uncertainty. Maybe I could just summarise what seems to emerge.
I once belonged to a group of social scientists who were looking
at possible research issues around interaction mediated by new technology.
One point that came up certainly seems salient to users in this discussion:
are e-mail communications to be considered a private form of discourse, like
letters and conversations, or a public form like print text? Sociolinguis-
tically they are hybrid, anomalous: they have the permanence of writing but in
being minimally planned/evanescent, interactive and context-bounded they are
more like face to face speech (this shows stylistically, and is refleted in
things like 'flaming' and the felt need for emoticons and such). The
consequence is dispute about what I'm doing if I reproduce something someone
said (wrote?) without permission, even if with acknowledgement: is it, as some
respondents said, like making 'fair use' of their article, or is it more like
publishing a private letter, exposing thoughts not intended for a wider
audience, or even repeating gossip I got by eavesdropping on a conversation?
This certainly could become a legal problem (especially if people reproduce
e-mail messages and profit thereby, as a number of contributors to the
thread noted), but I think fundamentally it's a social/cultural question,
a matter of how we 'think' e-mail, what other phenomena we analogise it to.
I have to admit that what prompted my query was an interest in e-mail
communications precisely because they are 'unguarded'. I study attitudes to
certain aspects of language use, and these are often discussed on the net,
either specifically or in passing. Contributors express opinions I think
they probably would think twice about in the more obviously public and highly
edited domain of published writing. This is exactly why the net is such a
good source for me, but equally it suggests that many people would be wary
of granting permission for me to quote if I approached them.
Responses to my query suggest that many users think it offensive for
someone to treat the net as a data source. They see this as a betrayal of
trust and community. For people of this persuasion, e-mail interaction is
analogous to a dinner-party conversation, a study group meeting or a club,
rather than, say, a scholarly journal. It is unfair to hold people accountable
for what they express in the same way in every context, and a breach of trust
to repeat messages intended to be kept 'in-house'. On the other hand, the
journal analogy does seem more prominent where respondents begin to worry
about copyright and intellectual property issues -- who should profit from
what is clearly felt by some to be individual creativity (e.g. signatures,
I think the crucial distinction being operated and argued about here
is not so much public/private as on and off the record. Judy Koren's
analogy with someone reproducing a talk to the library association without
the speaker's permission is not an ideal one. In the talk case there would
be a denial of the speaker's right to control (and profit from) her own
product, but there wouldn't be the same issue of trust because whoever the
talk was or wasn't designed for it would have been done on the record. With
e-mail, though, it seems a lot of people feel communications are, though
hardly private, off the record. The net presupposes users granting mutual
license to try out ideas without, in one contributor's words, them coming
back to haunt you. I suggest that net users see intellectual property issues
as salient where they take communications to be on record, and privacy or
trust issues to be salient where communications are seen as off-record; and
that there is disagreement about whether e-mail messages on the net are on-
record by definition, off-record by definition, or variable depending on the
context. Interestingly, the journalist Ken Laws who contributed said he
would respect this distinction if users posting messages would make it
I posted the query both because the issues are interesting and
because I care about the ethics. The discussion has not resolved my
problem but has given me more insight into the choices and what people
think is at stake in them. To begin with, let me ask those contributors
who felt permission was essential -- Cal Pryluck, Judy Koren, Brenda Ziser--
how they would feel about my quoting their remarks in this thread?
Thanks to all, Debbie Cameron.