Yesterday I was watching a comedian on HBO doing a routine that was both politically incorrect and hilarious. The audience seemed to enjoy it, which is not surprising, since they self-selected to be there. If any in the audience were offended, I'm guessing they blamed themselves for not doing their homework before buying tickets to the show.

Now imagine if someone recorded the comedian's act and decided to play it at the next church meeting. All hell would break loose because the x-rated material would be offensive in that context. My question is this: Who is the author of the material at the moment it is replayed at the church meeting? Is it the comedian who created it, or is it the person who moved it to a new context? I say it's the person who moved it to the wrong audience.

I believe authorship - at least in terms of responsibility, not copyright - should transfer when a person moves material from one context where it is appropriate to another where it is not. The same should be true whenever moving material from one context to another changes the message.

Tracey Morgan recently got in trouble for saying in his act that if his son announced he was gay, Tracey would stab him. If we presume that this was one of fifty outrageously inappropriate things Tracey said on stage that night, all within character as the absurdly ignorant and selfish guy he likes to portray for laughs, it means a comedian was trying to be outrageous and funny and missed the mark. That's all it means, since no reasonable person believes Tracey would stab his own son or love him less if he came out. But reported out of context, as it was, one has trouble seeing the statement as anything but the worst kind of hate speech.

I would argue that Tracey was 100% responsible for whatever psychological or social harm he caused to the audience that heard his remark live, and zero percent responsible for the harm that was caused when others spread the story. The spreaders became the authors (as far as responsibility) when they changed the context. They became the Authors by Relocation, a term I just made up.

Most people would agree that you shouldn't shoot the messenger. But that rule only applies if the messenger delivers the right message to the right person. If the king's messenger stops at the local inn to share the king's message before delivering it, someone is going to get beheaded.

Prior to the Internet, this transfer of authorship was a smallish problem. An unscrupulous or clumsy newspaper journalist could take out of context something from a book or a speech and write it up to make the original author seem ridiculous. But most professionals would be aware that moving material from one audience to another will change the message, and they would self-regulate to maintain the reputation of their publication.

Then along came the Internet. Now any idiot with a computer can move material from one context to another and totally change the meaning. Sometimes this is done by taking quotes out of context. Sometimes material is paraphrased incorrectly. Sometimes the person moving the material has low reading comprehension and makes an honest mistake. Sometimes a problem arises because an author has taken shortcuts with his regular audience, leaving out information that would be necessary for a new reader.

As a writer, you recognize that a huge part of your job is choosing your words to fit your intended audience. When a third party introduces a different audience to your writing, it destroys the audience-matching element of your craft. In a real sense, it changes the product.

An author has no legal recourse when his work is changed by the act of moving it. Libel laws are intentionally weak, and we're probably better off if they stay that way. But I recommend a solution that makes sense in the Internet age. I propose that responsibility for the impact of content (but not copyright or royalties) should be with the person who delivers material to an unintended audience.

By this model, you can blame the author for anything objectionable if you see the work in the channel he or she intended. But as soon as that work appears on some other website, including a link to the original, any anger it sparks should be directed at the person who invited an audience that the original author did not intend.

On the Internet, anything written for a particular audience is instantly available to the entire world. That's a wonderful thing, but it makes it too easy for the author and the audience to become accidentally mismatched.  Pay walls would be a solution, but they aren't generally economical. And we don't want authors writing to the least common denominator, trying to please everyone while offending no one. We want writing that is appropriate for the intended audience.

My proposal is that we leave things exactly as they are, technology-wise and business model-wise. We need no new laws. All we need is a name for the phenomenon: Author by Relocation.  It's the literary version of "You break it, you bought it." If a piece of writing causes little or no harm for its intended audience, we can assume the original author did his job. But if the work is relocated, and/or carved into quotes out of context, that becomes a case of Author by Relocation, and the carver/mover takes on responsibility for the message at that point.

This model maintains complete freedom of expression, including freedom to quote material and to criticize. It simply recognizes that moving and changing a message makes you the Author by Relocation.
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Jul 2, 2011
Well, since Author by Relocation is a more socially acceptable phrase than !$%*!$% Trying to Stir up
$h!t or Ignorant Attention !$%*!$ I guess we'll do it your way. :)
Jul 1, 2011
Seems like the unintended audience, or an audience that others think will be reached, is always causing certain people to soil themselves. The most recent example I can think of is a best selling book titled "Go the f**k to sleep." Obviously, the book is meant as a humorous attempt at explaining the frustrations parents of young children feel but should not ever express out loud, especially within earshot of their children. So of course, commentators out there are actually believing some parents will read this book to their children. Ridiculous, but the author really should have seen that coming.
Jun 29, 2011
Scott, Lenny Bruce thought exactly the same thing, author by relocation!

"There's been a comdey of errors. Here is how it happens. I do my act at perhaps 11:00 at night; little do I know that 11:00 AM the next morning, before the grand hury somehwere, there is another guy doing my act who is introduced as Lenny Bruce, in substance. Here he is! Lenny Bruce, in substance! A peace officer who is trained to recognize clear and present danger, not make believe, does the act. The grand jury watches him work and says "that stinks". But I get busted. And the irony is that I have to go to court and defend his act."

"Dirty Lenny died so we could all be free ... "
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 29, 2011
It could be used the other way too, you know. Imagine if I relocated a piece written by you to another context where it was, lets say, just as funny and appropriate if not more, and declared myself Author by Relocation. I doubt that would go down well with you or any good writer, duly proud of his work. Not the best solution, I'd say. Having said that, I also agree with that gentleman some comments ago. You should probably let it go. Never get into a wrestling match with a pig, like they say. You get dirty, the pig enjoys it, and your readers start getting bored of it.

[That's why I said copyright doesn't transfer. And the author is still the author. Author by Relocation is a separate and additional title, in the same way a movie has both a director and a producer. -- Scott]
Jun 29, 2011
"All we need is a name for the phenomenon: Author by Relocation"

Where I come from we already have a name for this - Publisher!
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Jun 28, 2011
I think most advocacy groups are crazy.
Sometimes I wonder what kind of world all these people really want to have. If they could make the world, like they are fighting for, what would the world look like? What would my daily life be, inside their world?

If the entire planet believed the exact same thing, their truth, how would that improve life for others, or improve it for me?
If everyone was white, middle class, or if everyone had their income distributed evenly across the entire world, or if you were required to live next to people you did not relate to, how would that be? If each person in the world had the exact same quality of obstacles in their life, is that better? What if everyone got exactly equal amounts of education? If the Greeks didn't want to have a budget, what would the rioters world feel like?

And I'm not talking about "everyone winning the lottery" world, but a realistic view using their priorities and their decisions, under current physics and limitations.

I imagine if they could write and direct a movie of how they want the world to be, if they could magically have it how they say they want it, is there an existing movie that fit their view of the world?

Would a Democrat want their film to be something like Star Trek - The Next Generation?
Would a Republican want their film to be like The Godfather?
Certainly a Libertarian does not want Lord of the Flies.
What movie is the goal world of the womens group? There are not many movies with the women in charge. There is a movie called Women in Charge but it's got nothing in IMDB. There is an episode of Star Trek where the women are in charge and the men wore shock collars, but of course Kirk fixed all that. Maybe 12 Angry Men or maybe 400 Blows? African Queen or All About Eve? (No, those just seemed like tweak their nose movie titles.) There are now many great women directors, but I'm still not clear of their vision.

Maybe the problem is any individual's movie would be different than their group's movie. We can't seem to figure out what color to paint the living room without one of us just saying, "yes, dear". How can we decide together about the complexity and details of the world?

Life now for many people seems too often like Waiting for Godot?

I would think those groups would get more converts if they could show us how they envision the future if we traveled down their path. But, in the end, I guess it would just make "making them seem stupid" a whole lot easier...

Too many people have completely lost their sense of humor. Whatever it is, maybe it should be a romantic comedy.
Jun 28, 2011
I'm a big, long-time fan of yours, but I'd like to play devil's advocate a bit and say that a natural extension of this might be an "internet bubble," where a reader is only exposed to ideas that they find favorable.


I want to be exposed to a wide variety of opinions, even if some of them are uncomfortable. Life is more exciting and dangerous that way!
Jun 28, 2011
When a black man offends gays, you're supposed to blame the Mormon Church.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 28, 2011

Might that also hold true for some actions? If my 7 year olds excellent first grade teacher was discovered naked, giving tequila body shots down in Cabo, are the parents then responsible for those actions being brought back into the classroom, instead of being left where they might be appropriate? (Parent-teacher conferences were more enjoyable back then.)
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 28, 2011
Actually we should take this to the next step and condemn the reader. Since the readers are the ones who chose to read the material and in general people know what offends them then if a person is offended by something they read then they should have known better and not have read it in the first place.

For example, anyone who always misinterprets what a cartoonist writes should not read anything by that cartoonist. If they do and they are offended, then its their fault.

Bible thumpers should only read the bible, feminazis should only read feminist propaganda and so on.

I call this Author by Reader.
Jun 28, 2011
In a way you are starting to sound like that politican who pleaded that nobody should waste time and money investigating who posted pictures of his dick on his Twitter account.

Man up and admint that your blog post was poorly written.

[I admit it. I also admit that Shakespeare is poorly written for toddlers. I'm not comparing myself to Shakespeare, and I'm saying so clearly, but I'll bet you can't help thinking that just maybe I did. -- Scott]
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 28, 2011
That post reminded me of the days when hip-hop / rap was still somewhat outside the mainstream. Every so often, there would be a piece on the nightly news where a stuffy old white guy was reading the latest "controversial" lyrics from Puffy, Biggie, etc. in "news caster voice". Always got a kick out of those ones....
Jun 28, 2011
If the "new reader" problem is a big one, why not write a humourous but explanatory short blog post that permanently sits at the top? Something like the warning that South Park gives at the beginning of every show (ending in "this program should not be wateched by anybody").

You could easily write an entertaining post that covers the core ideas that seem to confuse people. Even when people are linked from the outside directly to the permalink, they will often open the rest of your blog to see how offensive you normally are, and they would see this post right up at the top.

You write what interests you, not what you know about. One of your main interests is writing stuff that you yourself, along with 90% of the population, disagree with.

Sometimes you throw ideas out there just to see other people tear them apart.

Your business is comedy, not clarity, and you expect new readers misinterpret many posts.

If something can be interpreted two ways, and one way offends the reader less, you meant that one.

You apologize in advance for unintentionally offending people, even when you meant to.
Jun 28, 2011
good review and idea.
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Jun 28, 2011
Political enemies of George Washington sent around fake letters in which Washington allegedly expressed admiration for a real enemy, Britain’s King George III.
"At first, Washington said nothing. He thought people knew him well enough to know the quotes were fake.
They didn’t. People really believed it,”

!$%*!$%*!$ Bieber had the same problem as you, Scott. But, I guess it helps to have Perezhilton on your side, (you need to keep a better circle of friends to support you in times like this).

~Beiber as quoted by Rolling Stones magazine:
"On ab0rtion:
"I really don't believe in ab0rtion. It's like killing a baby? [In instances where the pregnancy is from rape] Um. Well, I think that's really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I guess I haven't been in that position, so I wouldn't be able to judge that."

"Wow! Those are some tough topics!
Obviously, not everyone may agree with all of his opinions, but we think it's wonderful that he's thinking about these things, and actively trying to understand why he feels the way he does about them! Such an important part of maturing!
Keep it up, bb! Too many people float through life without ever investing time or thought into these kind of topics!
What you say carries a lot of pull with a lot of people; it's important that you educate yourself as much as you can, so when you do speak out, you believe 100% in what you're saying!

~Perezhilton (later)
"Outrage almost immediately followed from folks who couldn't believe the answer !$%*!$ had given when asked whether abortions should be allowed in cases of rape, but no one was more upset that !$%*!$'s camp, who insisted he was misquoted.

"Sure enough, something was very much omitted from the his answer. After a lot of pressure, the mag had to post this message on their site and provide !$%*!$'s exact answer without the omission. The article reads:

"Due to an editing error, this story originally included an incomplete quote from !$%*!$ Bieber. The full quote, his response to whether abortions should be allowed in cases of rape, reads: "Um. Well, I think that's really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don't know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven't been in that position, so I wouldn't be able to judge that."

"We don't know how the reporter could so casually leave that out! It changes the whole context of his response! Whatever happened to responsible journalism, huh?

reader comments:
"wow, that's terrible that he was misquoted like that. way to go rolling stones. bastards
Stop hating. These are his opinions and thoughts.

Forgetting that "I don't know how that would be a reason." doesn't mean anything in that context, the fact that he backed off to minimize the Outrage, proves Scott has bigger b@lls than !$%*!$ Beiber....

When did, "it's important that you educate yourself" start meaning, "I'm too lazy to try to change your mind, so just go figure out why I'm right for yourself?

[Half of the world believes Richard Gere put a gerbil up his colon. (He didn't.) I like to point that out when people ask why I don't let rumors die out on their own. -- Scott]
Jun 28, 2011
"Prior to the Internet, this transfer of authorship was a smallish problem." I totally agree. Not only has the internet provided a freakishly fast way to distribute the message, it has also proven to be a means to deliver fresh, unadulterated evidence of the message given. In prior years, most stories were just described ("And then he said, and then she said") and it lost all of its emotional impact. Today, content from a cell phone is loaded straight to Youtube and you get the full impact of the original message right before your eyes. I think Michael Richards would have been able to ressurect his career if the news simply reported "Michael Richards is being criticized for using the N-word at a comedy club." Years ago he might have argued that it was taken out of context, and thinking back, yes, it was a poor choice. But there was an audio-video recording. Everyone saw it as if they were there. And it's horrible and offensive.

Sometimes the public gets it right, though. Just a few years ago Alec Baldwin got in trouble for a rant against his daughter that Kim Basinger, newly his ex-wife, secretly taped and released to the public. In the recording he is absolutely pi$$ed off, but talk about Author by Relocation. The whole time I kept thinking - he's mad at his kid. Is that a crime now? Judging by how quickly the story bubbled out of proportion and then disappeared, I think most people thought the same thing and understood it as a message out of context. And of course his career is doing just fine.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that the public is very hungry for those out of context messages... there are a million shows, magazines, and websites focused on celebrity gossip. And bad news sells WAY more than good news.
Jun 28, 2011
I like this idea. Looking at it from the other side, what is said in Church to a Bible adhering audience regarding moral issues that aren't politically correct (read homosexuality) should be left alone there. Taken out of that audience context they become 'hate speech' as well.
Jun 28, 2011
soooooooooooooo booooooored

can we please change the record, it is a no win arguemnt. they will never admit you are right, you didnt mean it how they took it, so you willnever say "I was wrong"

the other day I said to my wife "how big is that tube you want me to get for the kitchen", she said "I gave it to you". "No you didnt".

she meant it was shown to you before we put it to one side. so was adamant she was right (which from her context she was).

I hadnt been physically given it, so was adamant I was right (which from my context I was).

[The question of who was "right" has been settled. Even my harshest critics agree that the offending post was simply misinterpreted. And I agree that if a lot of people misinterpret something I wrote, that means I wrote something that can be misinterpreted by lots of people. Likewise, everyone agrees that something can be appropriate for one audience and misleading for another. The interesting stuff is in the margins of the conversation. -- Scott]

the message was given to it's intnded audience and still got screwed up, it happens.

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Jun 28, 2011
In the old days we would have called an 'Author by Relocation' simply, a Tattle Tale. Tattle Tales tattle because they see opportunity for themselves. Everything from getting a boost to their feeble self-esteem and enjoying getting a rise out of people to the more insidious furthering of careers, revenge, hate mongering and even payola. However, this dreck only works when the tattler's audience starts seeking similar incentives and the whole thing snowballs out of proportion. We're always going to have people like these but a healthy society should always question the tattler's motives and take what they say with a grain of salt.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 28, 2011
What if you were female?

What if, instead of Scott Adams, that Pegs and Holes blog post, word for word, was made by Sophie Adams?

Keep in mind your blog post said that men rape and cheat, they're not able to control it, this is a bad thing, and the best solution is to castrate all men, except for the purposes of reproduction, in which case a guy is just supposed to !$%*!$%*!$ into a cup.

Every mens group would hate Sophie for writing that.

That's why I couldn't understand why the women's groups hated your blog post. You said rape is a natural urge, true. But you always kept it in the context that it was a BAD thing, and your 'final solution' in the end was to castrate all men.
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