Reviews, aggregation and consent to be talked about

The fandom theme of the week for me seems to be on the topic of consent to be talked about. I’ll start with the absurd and work my way to the more subtle.

The absurd first of all.

Science fiction writer Richard Paolinelli kicked off my week with this tweet:

“Can @AusFedPolice tell me if @CamestrosF , a citizen of Australia, is violating Australian law, i.e. Chapter 33A-Unlawful Stalking, 359B(c)(ii) with his online attacks on myself, @jondelarroz and many other writers? He is attempting to ruin our ability to earn a living.”

This was so absurd and so counter to actual facts as to be laughable. However, the intent was clearly serious and I imagine Richard’s feelings are sincere, even if they are wholly at odds with his own behaviour.

Essentially Richard is not happy with me discussing him. Actually, I rarely do so and the most substantial discussion I’ve had about him was when he had attempted to engage me in a discussion (in the mistaken belief that I was either an agent of Mike Glyer or actually Mike Glyer).

It would be easy to dismiss Richard Paolinelli’s concerns because of his wider online behaviour but it is part of a spectrum of concerns around online discussion of others.

Mike Glyer has received more than his fair share of related complaints about him posting SFF news stories about people who don’t want to be covered by his site File770. Most notably many on the Sad Puppies side of the Puppy-Kerfuffle became increasingly hostile to Mike’s coverage. Again – easy to see their objections as absurd given their own behaviour, yet it isn’t only Sad Puppies. Reviewer and Shadow Clarke Jury member Jonathon McCalmont also had strong objections (again not well expressed) to being covered by File770.

In all of these examples, we have public comments being discussed publicly but the originators of the comments feeling as if there is either an intrusion into their life or a misuse of their comments.

Wayyyyyy over onto another side of this spectrum we have sealioning and harassment by trolls i.e. repeated, unwelcome and clearly intrusive attempts to engage a person in a discussion of what they said — typically done in bad faith or worse for the express purpose of trying to make somebody avoid saying anything for fear of being hassled.

I think there is a clear gulf between Mike’s news coverage and actual harassment. That doesn’t mean bloggers shouldn’t be mindful of when what they believe to be legitimate coverage of a person’s public comments have become distressing to that person but public discourse is an intrinsic good thing. It is simply not a viable ethical principle to only talk about the people who have given express consent to be talked about.

Skipping forward to the end of the week and there is a more interesting case that falls closer to being an ethical dilemma around related issues.

Rocket Stack Rank’s Eric Wong released a new feature at the review & review aggregation site entitled “Best SF/F by People of Color 2015-2016” which you can read about here and here.

Now personally I don’t like claims of “Best X…” whether it is in lists like this or in anthology titles. My dislike is moderated somewhat by the fact they can’t possibly be an objective assessment of what is best and hence readers know to take “best” with a hefty pinch of salt. Even so, I wish people wouldn’t do it and use a title that better reflect what the collection is (e.g. ‘our most liked…’, ‘our favourite…’). Having said that RSR did explain the actual process they had done to aggregate the list.

One reviewer, Charles Payseur (of Quick Sip Reviews) was unhappy about RSR list. His objections were manifold – a general objection to RSR’s approach, the nature of such a list being built mainly from reviews by white authors and finally, the use of his reviews to help compile the list.

Which is interesting on multiple levels. I think it is obvious that Payseur has:

  • Every right to be unhappy with his work being used to create the list.
  • Every right to ask not be used in this way.
  • Every right to ask not to be used at all by RSR.

However, that is not saying a lot. The question is what ethical obligation would RSR have to comply?

I think the answer is none but it is close.

Payseur has gone onto expound what he sees as the ethics of consent in these circumstances but reading through what he has written, I find it hard to find a coherent principle at work. That’s OK – I do a lot of thinking out loud directly to the world also. However, I don’t feel I understand Payseur’s objections well enough to paraphrase them correctly.

However, I can see two related ideas that could be in play (but I’m neither saying these are Payseur’s or not Payseur’s)

  • Exploitation of Payseur’s name and/or reputation to give credence legitimacy to RSR’s list.
  • Exploitation of Payseur’s work (as in what he has created and also his labour) to create the list.

These are both stronger points than simply not wanting to be talked about.

Of the two, I think the first is the stronger objection but looking at how RSR present things, I think they stayed on the right side of an imaginary ethical line – I don’t see anything that looks like they are implying the reviewers they aggregated endorsed the list or that they are using the reputation of reviewers like Payseur to promote the list. Having said that, it is safer to err on the side of caution and I think it is here that RSR is most right in conceding to Payseur’s request.

This first point also relates to some of the ethical issues around the Sad Puppy 4 recommendation lists (e.g. Alistair Reynolds asking not to be included) and the 2017 Dragon Awards (e.g. various authors asking for their finalist status to be withdrawn). The line here is around consent to be associated with a thing or being ‘forced’ to participate in a thing.

The second point really comes down to fair use. Reviews, criticism, critiques even public attacks necessarily derive from the work of others. I literally exploit stupid things Vox Day says to generate column inches – heck, I’m exploiting the work of both Payseur, Hullender and Wong in this very column! That is the nature of public discourse – there isn’t a way of having a discourse that isn’t built upon what others have said.

In RSR’s case, we have a somewhat different form of discourse: aggregation of data. Now it should hardly be a surprise given many of my posts that I’m very much in favour of seeing aggregating derived data as a legitimate fair use of other’s work for the purpose of public discourse. I’ll concede that is different in style from a review or a critique but it is also important because it provides insights into a field. It is by its nature transformative and is by no means ‘free’ and requires its own labour.

I don’t think it requires the consent of those who create public information if the aggregation is genuinely transformative (and respectful of privacy and other ethical considerations). Not only that requiring or expecting consent for such activity would be detrimental to public discourse. It’s not just RSR, its a wide range of other activities such as the Fireside Report, that looks at what is produced by wider fandom and identify trends or other underlying values.

Have a fully thought through all of that? Nope – happy to revise my opinion accordingly but it is a discussion worth having. There clearly is a spectrum of behaviour here and consent does play a role but so does the more general good of public discourse.


42 responses to “Reviews, aggregation and consent to be talked about”

  1. “Both Payseur, Hullender, and Wong.” This statement is both ungrammatical. (And I have nothing of substance.)


  2. I think that if Payseur dislikes that specific RSR list and feels that it is using his reviews in a way he feels is illegitimate then a) saying so and b) asking not to be included are both pretty reasonable. I don’t think it was intended the way he’s read it, but I can see how you’d arrive at that reading and dislike the result, and wanting not to be seen as giving credence to that reading is legitimate IMO.
    I’m less convinced by him wanting to be left off the entire RSR site as it simply aggregates many reviews and doesn’t claim the results are anything more than that, which is a different situation to that specific list.
    I think that by simply acquiescing and removing him from their data that RSR have taken the (hopefully) calming route, though out of politeness rather than obligation IMO.

    The Paolinelli thing was just surreal though. He seems intent on riffling through other people’s old playbooks and then imitating them in the most half-assed and pathetic way possible.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve had a longer look at what Payseur said – I follow his reviews but not his personal twitter, so I didn’t see it in real time. I don’t fully follow his logic. I understand his personal take that he would drop/stop reviewing someone if they didn’t want him to. To me that fits with his very personal and emotive style of reviews – he engages deeply with each work, so I imagine that knowing the author didn’t want him to would really mess with that.
        However, he frames it as a matter of ethics, and then he says he might still talk about the work elsewhere, e.g. twitter, and that’s where he loses me – is there a substantive difference between having Opinions on a website and having them on twitter? I don’t think there is. This might be a rather technocratic view of mine, but I think the default is that once you unleash something onto the internet you can’t really claim much control over that. (I should note that there are definitely exceptions to any default – misrepresentation, use of disproportionate responses that snowball quickly, etc, quickly come to mind). I think his point that he felt the list misrepresented him in some way was strong enough to overcome that default for that specific list, but not for the wider (and IMO more benign) use of aggregating his recs with others.

        So him asking, RSR agreeing – fine, that’s personal decisions on both sides. But as an ethical point about consent? – I don’t follow that.

        Mostly I find this quite sad – there has for some reason evolved two sides to the incredibly small room that is reviewing short SF and instead of having these different-but-complementary approaches to synergise they seem to be sniping at each other across the table instead.


        • @Mark Hepworth —

          “Mostly I find this quite sad – there has for some reason evolved two sides to the incredibly small room that is reviewing short SF and instead of having these different-but-complementary approaches to synergise they seem to be sniping at each other across the table instead.”

          Absolutely. Instead of something like “Hey, I’m not comfortable with my name being included in a ‘best of’ list like this — maybe you could change the name?”, it’s “you’ve done something despicable and I don’t want to have anything to do with you.”

          To which I reply — sheesh. Who pissed in your Wheaties?


          • @Contrarius

            Indeed. I’ll note that Payseur did acknowledge he’d asked “a bit angrily”, and while following the conversations I came across a couple of things from Greg that weren’t exactly soothing the waters either.
            Ultimately, I suspect that this wouldn’t have gone as badly if there wasn’t bad feeling in there already to exacerbate the reactions.


      • Regarding now-deleted stuff – sorry, I should have realised that in taking a couple of days to mull the question over Things Had Changed and it wouldn’t be a conversation you wanted to pursue any more. If you want to prune out my last couple of thoughts then I won’t be at all offended.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Payseur and others had some very legitimate gripes about RSR reviews, Greg. You’re not covering yourself in glory by trying to re-litigate that here again. My advice to you would also be to stop digging.


      • Greg – I’ve moved your comment. Not appropriate here given both Payseur and I have been nominated in the same category. I appreciate it was born out of frustration but I think it would not unreasonably be seen as me hosting an attack.


  3. My own feeling is that, if you make a statement in public, you don’t get to dictate people’s responses – if people choose to comment (positively or negatively), that is up to them (unless, of course, actual laws are being broken – if someone responds in a way that’s threatening or harassing or libellous, appropriate laws should apply. [Which begs the question of what laws are appropriate, but that’s another can of worms. {I wonder what level of nested parentheses I can reach, here?}])

    Now, Charles Payseur has every right to say “I don’t want you talking about me without my consent”, because that is not threatening or harassing or libellous, so it’s covered by ordinary freedom of speech. But my own response to that – with my own freedom of speech – would be to quote the philosopher Jagger at him: you can’t always get what you want. His public utterances are fair game for public discussion, in my opinion. And he can quote me on that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My view is similar to Steve’s. If you publicly post something on the Internet (or make another public statement), people have the right to respond, link, debate, agree and disagree. That said, there are people to whom I won’t link without using an archived page, because they tend to get aggressive. Mostly the various puppies, but also some non-puppies. One of non-puppy I’d never never link to without a workaround is mentioned in this very post (and it’s not Greg, Eric or Charles Payseur).

    That said, consent is a tricky thing. For example, in my monthly new release round-ups (the March round-ups just went up BTW), many of the authors have explicitly contacted me to let me know that they have a new book out. But I also link to indie and small press authors I happen to like who haven’t explicitly asked me to and may not even be aware that I’m linking to them. I don’t see much of a problem with this. The vast majority of indie and small press authors are happy for any mention of their books, especially if they don’t have to pay for it. And indeed no one has ever asked me to remove their book from my round-ups, though if someone did, I would take it out.

    However, I’m not the only person doing indie and small press new release round-ups. Others do such round-ups, too, including the Castalia House blog. And I can fully understand if an author does not want to be mentioned by them without their consent. Ironically, there have been cases where my round-up and Castalia House’s did mention the same books. In all cases, the authors were not known puppies or puppy sympathisers (one was even an author of colour), so I assume they had no idea about the background of Castalia House.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “One of non-puppy I’d never never link to without a workaround is mentioned in this very post”

      On that subject, he’s ended his column and locked up his blog. No idea why.


  5. There’s a difference in aggregating links to articles with excerpts and reprinting someone’s reviews — their writing — without their permission and without financial compensation. Essentially, it sounds like RSR simply borrowed the reviews and declared them to be for their use to make their best of list. That’s not the same as what you or File 770 are doing by excerpting, linking to and discussing articles, reviews and other public posts — which is essentially news gathering and commentary/analysis. If RSR simply said, here’s a good review by Payseur, there are still ethical issues about that in terms of Payseur generating content for RSR’s site without compensation or permission (see the complaints about aggregate news sites like Huffington Post, etc.,) but it is generally viewed as at least spreading word of Payseur’s writing with full credit and sending people to his site as well as generating value content for RSR. And if it’s presentation and discussion of that public written work, that’s well within RSR’s rights, even though it does raise an income generating problem for writers on the Internet.

    But the difference here is that they made a Best Of list using Payseur’s written work to make it. They generated their own content by using his writing as part of that original content officially presented by the site as theirs without permission and compensation. That’s basically an infringement on Payseur’s copyright, a permissions issue, and it paints Payseur, without his consent, as endorsing and freely participating in everything RSR was doing regarding that list, which he clearly did not. For one thing, having a bunch of white reviewers who are likely to, whether they’ve good intentions or not, have racial biases that make their analysis of works by POC authors not particularly great compared to POC reviewers, is not something that a POC reviewer might want to have their name slapped on and their name used to promote the list for RSR’s benefit as well. Being included not simply on RSR’s site as aggregate collected material or discussed material but material used as part of an original feature of the site, as their content — again, that’s an infringement. And there is an ethical imperative there not to do that to authors. If you’re going to make a best of list, make your own. If you want to make a best of list with reviews from multiple sources, you ethically get permission from those sources to use their writing for your feature, which again is not a commentary piece on their writing like you do, Cam — it’s using their actual writing as officially part of your site/publication.

    And in this particular case, it gets back to our social system of white people appropriating things from POC for their own use and benefit, without consent and proper compensation to those POC creators. It’s a colonial appropriation which unfortunately white people are in the habit of doing without even considering it, and POC are sometimes in the habit of doing to POC in other ethnic and racial groups. So yeah, I can understand why this Payseur was upset. It’s a particular instance in which he was unethically exploited for something that he felt was half-assed and not as positive as RSR probably hoped it would be. It comes down to actually talking to the people whose work you want to participate in your endeavors and giving them the choice to collaborate with you, rather than you just taking their stuff for your own purposes. That’s different from discussing and commenting on a public piece of writing; it’s using the writing. And that is infringement, since Payseur’s reviews are an electronic publication to which he holds the rights, and RSR’s Best of List is an electronic publication to which they hold the rights. They didn’t get the official permission they should have been seeking from all the reviewers they were using for the Best Of list feature. That’s a basic lapse in legal contract safe-guarding and it makes RSR vulnerable to legal action, not just complaints.

    In the Puppies case, they were a political group seeking a political agenda. Their drafting authors onto a conservative voting slate with specific goals without most of those authors’ consent was ethically wrong and had a disastrous impact on those writers’ careers and livelihoods, as well as the personal safety of themselves and their families. It was the worst thing that they did (not counting the swatting attempt.) When they later tried to change the campaign to be “only” producing a recommendation list, they were still a conservative political group and again, numerous authors did not want to be on any list of theirs, which would be confused by many with the earlier voting slates and the authors on it assumed to have consented and be part of the political group making the list.

    So the authors wanted off the list because it was damaging to their careers, and ethically, the Puppies should have removed them. But that would leave them without an official rec list that they felt generated value content for their group and its websites. So they refused, which left them open to libel action in several territories, though in the end most decided not to bother. That at least did not involve the Puppies using actual writing by the authors for their own content. But RSR created a publication — a Best Of list — and appropriated writing to be a part of that list that they had not been given permission from the creators to use for their content. So that’s really not a situation that a site wants to be in if they want to be seen as ethical, and I would definitely assume that RSR does want to be seen that way.

    So legally, it would be difficult for Payseur to pursue a legal claim against them if they refused to comply, but his claim would not be without legal grounds to try it. And it would be a PR disaster for RSR to refuse to remove Payseur’s writing as part of their content. It’s not an uncorrectable mistake. You remove Payseur’s content, you apologize profusely, you get permission from all the other reviewers whose reviews you’re using as part of the Best Of list and in any other feature of that type in the future, you get permission or you don’t use it. Legally, that’s the safest plan for them. And in the small world of fiction authors and SFF media, that’s definitely important. It also wouldn’t hurt if RSR next time it did that to add more POC reviewers — with their consent.


    • @Kat —

      “Essentially, it sounds like RSR simply borrowed the reviews and declared them to be for their use to make their best of list.”

      They did nothing of the sort.

      You’re not helping the debate by introducing blatantly false claims into it.

      What RSR does is, as has been mentioned before, aggregation. It say essentially “these 8 reviewers reviewed this work and gave it an average rating of x” — or similar. And they clearly link the reviewers and their sites or publications.

      This no more requires permissions or copyrights than “8 out of 10 dentists agree”.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think RSR really only made use of others reviews as ratings – that’s definitely ok from a copyright view. For example I could take newspaper reports from an election period and rate how positive or negative each report was on each candidate. The newspapers would have no grounds to object – I did use their reports as raw material but the process was transformative and I made a new thing out of it.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Kat Goodwin: Essentially, it sounds like RSR simply borrowed the reviews and declared them to be for their use to make their best of list… But the difference here is that they made a Best Of list using Payseur’s written work to make it. They generated their own content by using his writing as part of that original content officially presented by the site as theirs without permission and compensation.

    Sorry, I can’t agree with you on this. RSR did not “borrow” reviews. They did not “use” Payseur’s written work. They posted links to Payseur’s reviews, saying “here’s a reviewer who liked this work” — and that requires neither permission nor compensation.

    While I have a great many issues with things that RSR has posted in their reviews, and their claims of “objectively” evaluating works, Payseur is out-of-line to complain that someone is linking to his work as part of a list. He put it out there, he should expect that people will link to it, talk about it, and label it as they wish. If he doesn’t like how his reviews get labeled, well, welcome to the world of every single person who posts something on the internet, and has other people linking to it and commenting on it.

    This is like saying that Mike Glyer should be getting permission to post links to reviews and comment on them in his Pixel Scrolls, and that he should be paying compensation to the reviewers for doing so. It’s just not the case.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Except that they didn’t do that. There are two different things, as I specified. They used the reviews for a Best Of list. Linking to people’s reviews that they’ve aggregated is what they normally do, right? And linking to articles and posts in an aggregate summary is what Mike Glyer does, right? Neither of those things requires permissions or involves copyright issues because File 770 isn’t claiming those pieces are part of File 770’s articles, are contributions to File 770’s own original content. And when RSR aggregates reviews and ratings, as it normally does, that also isn’t RSR making reviews part of their published piece, so their usual aggregations don’t have those issues either. They don’t have to get permissions for doing that.

      But this wasn’t the usual aggregation that RSR does. This was the RSR site making a Best Of list — using these reviewers’ reviews for RSR’s Best Of list, a publication to which the reviewers were contributors to make RSR’s official list. They were exploiting the reviewers content to serve as their own official content. That’s different than what RSR or an aggregate site usually does. It indicates that the reviewers are willing contributors, which if you haven’t checked with them about it, they aren’t. Which means that strictly for their Best Of list, RSR — and this was not devious intent, simply them not thinking about the issues of it — exploited these reviewers’ publications for their own published writing because this was a feature of a list.

      Give an example — the former website SF Signal. SF Signal would aggregate news and article links, including sometimes reviews, as well as book launch announcements, etc. They would sometimes excerpt articles and posts and have discussion and commentary about those. None of that required permissions, because it wasn’t them creating a feature article that involved others’ writings contributing to make the content of the feature. It’s covered under fair use.

      But SF Signal would also do its own feature articles, including roundtable discussions/surveys where contributing authors wrote short essays about subjects. These were original feature content of SF Signal, that SF Signal owned copyright to and which were their value content on the site, to attract viewers. They didn’t pay the authors for them — it was promotion for the authors — but they did ask the authors to contribute to the feature; they had the author’s permission, they were not exploiting the author’s writing for their feature content, it was a contribution. Now if, instead of asking the authors to do the writing and contribute them with permission, SF Signal had simply cut and pasted material from authors’ blog posts and published writings on the subject chosen and put it into SF Signal’s own, original feature article on their site, fully crediting the authors and linking to their publications but without the authors’ knowledge and permission, it would still be excerpts with links, but it wouldn’t simply be fair use, it would not be aggregating links. It would be exploiting the authors’ actual writing for their own feature content that is copyrighted to SF Signal.

      Doing a Best Of POC Authors of this year List is a feature article. It is RSR’s official Best Of list. They own it as their list. It is intellectual property on their site. So for that particular feature — not their usual review aggregation excerpts and link, not discussion of someone else’s writing, but for their feature they made — they should have checked with the reviewers about whether they were okay with them being contributors to RSR’s official Best Of piece. And they didn’t. Not because they’re evil; they just didn’t think about it. But a Best Of List piece is not the same as their usual rating round-up practices. And it’s not good business to do an article, like a Best Of list, and use others’ writings without getting the okay from them that they are alright with being part of what RSR made. How the text is used does matter — that’s why we’ve got fair use standards in various countries in the first place. And a Best Of list is a different kettle of fish because it’s an official feature piece they put together.

      These sites are publications, like magazines. So there’s a difference in publications doing a round-up of sources/links, doing a commentary opinion piece possibly on someone else’s piece, and creating an article like a Best Of list. And if a site/magazine uses the reviewer’s work to CREATE their own Best Of list — which they did — then that’s not simply fair use, that’s using the reviewers to write their Best Of list for them, which is exploitive, and they should have gotten the reviewers’ permission for being included in that particular piece. Because by using the review excerpts in the Best Of list, rather than just rounding up review links and ratings, they were making those reviewers contributors to RSR’s piece, without asking. And as it turns out, one of those reviewers didn’t want to be a contributor to RSR’s feature idea of a Best Of list.

      No one is going to sue RSR over this. But if they want the good will of authors, reviewers, magazines and SFF media people — if they want these people to voluntarily contribute to the site, spread positive word about the site, etc., then you don’t take advantage and they took advantage in this particular case. They were trying to do a good thing — promote POC authors — but they went too far. There are standards about this. The type of article, how text is used in a particular article, does matter. There are degrees of use.


      • Kat. Sorry, but you’re way off base here. The list in question was just the same as all the other lists they do, just with a filter for “PoC” applied. Legality and copyright are irrelevant here.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kat Goodwin: But this wasn’t the usual aggregation that RSR does. This was the RSR site making a Best Of list — using these reviewers’ reviews for RSR’s Best Of list, a publication to which the reviewers were contributors to make RSR’s official list. They were exploiting the reviewers content to serve as their own official content.

        Sorry, but no. I usually find your comments here very perceptive and on-the-mark, but these are way off base. What you claim RSR did bears very little resemblance to what they actually did.

        You don’t have to guess about what RSR did, you know. The page is still out there, sans the Payseur links.

        All RSR has done is create a different aggregation, with a different title, their own reviews, and links to others’ reviews. This is no different from what they’ve done in the past. While I would quibble that the “Best” label is not the correct one for this page, this is not a feature article, this is not a roundtable, this is just a page with “here’s our reviews, and here are links to reviews by other people, and we’ve ranked these in order by the number of positive reviews they got”. No permission is required, no compensation is warranted.

        What RSR has done is little different from what I’ve done in the Hugo Review Roundups — except that RSR has actually created some of their own content (their reviews) for their pages, whereas my content relies solely on reviews by other people. Are you seriously going to argue that I should have asked permission of those reviewers, and paid them compensation, because they provided the entire content of my post?

        Sorry, but no.

        Also — and please correct me if I’m mistaken — but as far as I’m aware, Payseur has never identified as a person of color. Colonialism is a thing people do, as is cultural appropriation. But claiming that RSR’s links to the reviews of Payseur are “colonialism” and “appropriation” is specious beyond the pale — and it diminishes the conversation about real colonialism and real appropriation.

        Liked by 1 person

      • @Kat —
        “But this wasn’t the usual aggregation that RSR does. This was the RSR site making a Best Of list — using these reviewers’ reviews for RSR’s Best Of list, a publication to which the reviewers were contributors to make RSR’s official list. They were exploiting the reviewers content to serve as their own official content. That’s different than what RSR or an aggregate site usually does. It indicates that the reviewers are willing contributors”


        Let’s compare with a standard type of study in scientific fields called a literature review. In a lit review, a researcher will aggregate all the other studies previously performed on whatever subject he happens to be interested in. He will take the results from all of those studies, throw them in a big pile, and analyze them all together. And then he/she will come up with results that take all of those earlier studies into account.

        This is a STANDARD type of study. It does not require permissions from anybody to use prior research results.

        That’s precisely what RSR does. It does a “lit review” of the available reviews on whatever shorts it likes, it analyzes those previous reviews, and it presents aggregate results.

        Aggregation does NOT impose any ethical OR legal obligations on RSR — except obligations to get the data right.

        OTOH, there is ONE part of Payseur’s protests that I do agree with. I don’t like the “Best” appellation — this is literature, after all, and opinions are extremely subjective. I’d prefer to see something like “highly rated” or “good to check out” or some such. But that, of course, isn’t what Payseur is really complaining about.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It isn’t the same as lists they do if it’s a “BEST Of” list because such a list is about endorsement, about RSR listing their endorsements. Let’s be clear here, I’m not claiming that RSR should be paying people for what they used, though there are those who can make arguments for compensation, depending on the amount and context of the use in each case. But getting permission to use their reviews, which the reviewers own, specifically for use in RSR’s Best Of list, yeah, they should have done that, especially because it was a Best Of list about racial/ethnicity issues and thus sensitive. It’s not the same as just a round-up of reviews. It’s an endorsement feature with RSR RANKING and profiling titles based on other people’s review content mixed with their own — that’s an article, not an aggregation, and the use of the reviewers’ excerpts for it becomes the reviewers ENDORSING RSR’s Best Of list through the use of their content in a Best Of feature that RSR did. (And if they’ve been making Best Of lists regularly, that’s a problem with each of those lists where it’s not just RSR’s own rankings.)

        “we’ve ranked these in order by the number of positive reviews they got”; “except that RSR has actually created some of their own content (their reviews) for their pages”

        — Yes, that’s the difference, JJ. RSR wrote a feature piece about the BEST of the POC writers for that year — a feature article about those authors whom RSR is ranking. That’s original content, in which RSR then also uses the reviewers’ excerpts as part of RSR making the ranking list. That’s not the same thing, JJ, as you doing a round-up of review links related to the Hugos — that’s a news collection. What RSR did — because they did a Best Of list — is a feature piece of original content that they own. They own their Best Of list as an official list of RSR. And in that piece, the reviewers’ excerpts which helped create the ranking for RSR are thus contributions to RSR’s original piece, not just a round-up. But they weren’t necessarily willing contributions to RSR’s feature piece because RSR did not get permissions from their reviewer contributors to their Best Of feature article about POC authors. It’s HOW the reviewer excerpts were used that is the issue, not that they used them at all.

        For Charles Payseur, it is an issue of colonialism, from what he said, even though he seems to be white. (Which doesn’t prevent him from pointing out those issues.) That was his objection. Because it’s not just linking to his reviews of POC authors — it’s a Best Of list that RSR put together and used his reviews to do it. Having largely white people decide what POC authors are “best” has a lot of problems to it for many people, including clearly Payseur. White people, not maliciously but culturally, are likely to relate less to POC characters, hold POC writing to higher bars and more criticism than they do white authors, and most importantly for this feature, rank POC authors higher who they feel are less critical, hostile, more deferential, etc. to white people in their fiction writing. It does becomes a form of appropriation to have white people get to decide what is good POC writing and inferior POC writing in their ranking lists — that’s part of appropriation as an issue, controlling what is acceptable and good in the general culture related to minorities’ cultures. So a group of mainly white people deciding who are the best POC authors for a year is not something that Payseur wanted to be involved in as an apparent endorsing contributor to RSR’s ranking system. And he was involved, more than simply having his reviews excerpted and linked to — his reviews were being used for a feature about the BEST POC authors, which is different from a simple round-up of reviews because it is a best of ranking.

        So if RSR has done this with Best Of lists before, then it was a problem before, something they didn’t think about until Payseur brought up the issue specifically with regards to POC authors. And that may be hard for the folks at RSR to hear, but if they want the actual goodwill of reviewers, writers, etc. whom they are excerpting, then it’s in their best interests to look at what they are doing with each piece on their site and making sure they get authors’ okay on excerpts in pieces that are meant to be exclusive feature content of RSR, such as RSR officially ranks the best POC authors. A round up of reviews with excerpts is fair use. A Best Of list with excerpts is not fair use — it’s directed, feature content. It has beneficial value as original content on the RSR site to do those Best Of lists. That matters.

        Now, when Mike does round-ups of blog posts and news, and he does commentary on them in his Pixel lists, that’s not the same thing. It’s a news collection and commentary. He doesn’t need to get permission to collect and present public writing links and fair use excerpts. And he has a free speech right to comment and opine about any published writing, including using small fair use excerpts of that writing in order to discuss them. So the Puppies have no justified complaints there. But if he does a Best Of list and he EMPLOYS other writers’ work as contributing excerpts in addition to his own writing to CREATE that list? Then he’s using those authors’ writing for his own feature piece and ethically, he should get their permission for that. It is a different type of use of their writing and it implies their endorsement of Mike’s Best Of list as contributors, which if he hasn’t gotten their permission first, Mike would not actually have. So that would be misleading if he doesn’t have their permission to involve them in HIS Best Of list. There is a substantial difference between a pixel scroll round-up and a Best Of list Mike might create as a type of content. (I apologize for the use of caps — I don’t know how to do italics in this blog in comments.)

        It’s an easy fix for RSR to make in the future in regards to Best Of lists. And congrats to RSR, Payseur and File 770 for their Hugo noms!

        Liked by 1 person

        • “That’s original content, in which RSR then also uses the reviewers’ excerpts”

          I stopped reading at this point. There are no excerpts.
          (And if there were, it’s highly likely that any quotes would be fair use)

          Liked by 2 people

        • Kat, you’re just completely off base on this one. There were no excerpts. RSR has no more obligation to obtain permissions than any scientist does when putting together lit reviews. It really is that simple.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Clearly I am not doing an effective enough job of explaining the difference between a round-up of reviews (such as the Outstanding change Greg says they are now doing,) and a Best Of list which RSR creates, is officially RSR’s best of list that they own as content, but which they are using the reviewers’ rankings and reviews as contributors to create their own Best Of list. It’s not the same thing. A lit review or a reviewer round-up is collecting information. A Best Of list, however, is making the reviewers contribute their material to RSR’s creation of a Best Of list. That’s the difference. So yes, if you simply link to someone’s material or discuss it, you have no obligation to them. But if you USE their materials to create your own material — which is what a Best Of list does, it’s a creation that RSR made as RSR’s Best Of list, not the reviewers’ best of list — then you do have an obligation to ask permission to use their material to create your own material. Because when you use their material — their rankings and reviews — to create your own material, such as your very own Best Of list, you are indicating to readers that they are contributors to that Best Of list and endorse and approve of that Best Of list that RSR created. And they might not want to do that and have their material — their rankings and reviews — used in that way by RSR so that RSR can create their Best Of list.

        Let’s try this. Think of a cake. The reviewers made their own cakes. A round-up of reviews is like a collection of pictures of those cakes, saying, here are the cakes by these reviewers for your interest, here’s what the cakes look like (rankings) and you can go check them out further through these links. Great, fine, you don’t have an obligation to the reviewers who made the cakes to get their permission to let people know about their cakes. But RSR doing a Best Of list is like they are taking the reviewers’ cakes and making a tower of these cakes, and then saying look at this neat tower of cakes we made with the reviewers’ cakes, which you can find out more about in these links. But RSR designed the tower they built with the reviewers’ cakes, making the cakes part of RSR’s creation, contributions to it. But all the reviewers don’t necessarily want their cakes to be part of RSR’s Best Of tower, to be part of the materials used to build RSR’s Best Of list. You see the difference here — a Best Of list is not simply a round-up of links. It’s a creation that is built.

        I don’t know if this analogy works better for people or not and I won’t belabor it further, but there are differences in the type and usage of material between a round-up or review and a Best Of list which is a created system of ranking. RSR creates and owns the latter as their material, so the reviewers’ stuff becomes contributions to that material, rather than simply gathered information. That creates a different relationship for the Best Of piece between RSR and the reviewers than just a round-up.

        If nothing else, Payseur’s complaint alerted RSR to a potential problem that they could have with reviewers concerning this type of material — Best Of lists. And so they seem to have made changes so that problem won’t crop up in the future.


        • No, Kat, you’re simply wrong.

          A lit review does precisely what you’re talking about with your tower of cakes — it rounds up a collection of previous studies, reanalyzes them, and BUILDS A TOWER of new conclusions from those previous studies — using the previous studies to create NEW WORK.

          Yet they have absolutely no obligation — either legally or ethically — to obtain permissions from any of those previous researchers.

          Give it up, Kat. You’ve missed the target this time.


  7. I think Payseur isn’t out of line to request his reviews not be used for this particular purpose. He’s got a very valid point about the Best of PoC list being compiled from mostly white folks. What with white supremacy breaking out all over, and the long legacy of cultural appropriation, I’m on his side there. RSR is in no way obliged to remove him, but a few people are still capable of being polite and reaching a settlement in good faith.

    Now, Puppies being mad at Mike for nothing more than the links to their postings — postings which they put up for the express purpose of publicizing their ideas — is ridiculous. There’s no moral ground there at all. Also no moral grounds for not removing authors, when being on their list was demonstrably dangerous to them personally or professionally.

    But Dck Paolinelli is completely stupid. “Someone on the internet doesn’t like my opinions” is a long way from “I am being threatened”. (Ditto the whiny Sharke, who after all was out there pontificating that he didn’t like the Clarke jury’s opinions and his were More Betterer!)

    If DP was serious, he’d have emailed the feds privately and directly, instead of hoping whoever’s running their Twitter account bothers to read it. Thus his tweet is strictly advertising and virtue-signaling to whoever he’s sucking up to this month. Yes, his feelings were hurt, but a) that’s not illegal and b) see again the immortal words of Sir Mick.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Speaking from experience of having tangled with him on occasion, the whiny Sharke likes airing his opinions, but he doesn’t like people disagreeing with him. He’s also nearly as thin-skinned as Richard Paolinelli. Paolinelli has me blocked on Twitter, even though I never interacted with him, while Mr. Whiny Sharke has me blocked on Twitter because of a disagreement we had more than 10 years ago.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Paolinelli likes to make blustery threats. He sent me an e-mail a couple of weeks ago irate over a tweet that I had written something like a month and a half before that. His big threat was that he was going to file a complaint with the agency I work for to, I don’t know, try to get me fired for tweeting something he didn’t like or something. As far as I know, he never followed up, but that may have been because I pointed out to him that Lou had tried that already and it didn’t work.

        (For reference the objectionable tweet was one in which I was commenting on his calling DongWon Song a “cancer” on science fiction by noting that the only cancer I could see was Paolinelli and his “alt-SFWA”.)

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Also, completely aside from the RSR issue, that Paolinelli did the swatting theater with cops of claiming Cam is stalking and harassing him when Paolinelli first harassed Cam and then helped engineer and lead stalking and harassment of the Meadows, including again another swatting attempt, certainly shows the man’s values. He continues to try to get people in trouble and danger with the cops, while committing most of the harassment crimes he’s accusing others of doing. He might want to stop trying to draw the attention of the cops if he’s going to keep doing that. Even if Australian cops and authorities are less trigger happy than American ones, this does not seem like a wise plan.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bringing yourself to the attention of the authorities is not recommended anywhere, at any time. Doing it repeatedly and in the current political climate in both the US and Oz (plus online as we see with Cambridge Analytica) is very unwise.

      Particularly if you’re committing the offense you’re accusing others of. Cops see that all the time and take a dim view of it. The most honest, least corrupt, least trigger-happy police force is liable to twig to that.
      (source: my local small town PD which AFAIK is ridiculously honest, at least when I worked there, and hasn’t shot anybody in quite some time. The last one being someone who actively began shooting at them with a bigger gun — seems pretty justified. That was 3 years ago. Anyway, they side-eyed people who kept accusing others of misdeeds and invariably found out who the real guilty party was. Pretty sure the Aussie Feds are also savvy to this.)

      Even if you’re 100% innocent, it behooves you not to let the cops know you exist. I’m a college educated middle class white woman who used to work with cops and has been a scofflaw to the tune of one traffic ticket. And even I keep a low profile around the po-po, and would even if they weren’t armed. I even stay away from unarmed security guys at the mall. I don’t want my day interrupted.


  9. Payseur also made what I thought was a very odd comment in response to the coverage of his request to RSR in File 770: “Seeing oneself discussed in an open forum is a wild experience.” (This was also reported by Mike.) He very publicly asked RSR not to include his reviews any longer – which he was perfectly entitled to do, but which he could also have done by contacting RSR privately. Hence he evidently chose to make this a public statement. Why would he be surprised that people are discussing it?


  10. For what it’s worth, we’ve decided to replace “Best of” with “Outstanding” in our latest aggregations (including the POC one) and in all new ones. Our thought is that for each story we can say why it “stands out” (e.g. it was recommended by a serious reviewer or it was included in a major annual anthology or it was a finalist for a comprehensive award). For each year, then, we’ll gradually build an Outstanding list, and we can select subsets of that for various purposes (e.g. hard SF, high fantasy, LGBT characters, diverse authors, etc.)

    Our use of Payseur’s ratings was, as several have said, clearly protected as Fair Use (under all four categories, I believe), so we certainly had no legal requirement either to ask his permission or to honor his request, but I don’t think he ever suggested that we did. We included him three months ago at the request of some of our readers, who told us they valued his analyses. We asked the opinions of a dozen of our supporters, including the same people who asked us to include Payseur in the first place and everyone agreed we had no obligation to remove him, but that we should do so anyway. (Well, excluding one person who said we should keep him just out of spite.) 🙂 Most of them also suggested we find an alternative to “Best of,” so we’re hoping “Outstanding” meets with general approval.

    Whatever our faults might be, failing to listen to our readers is not one of them, so we removed Payseur. Besides, Fandom has too many feuds in it already.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that’s a wise plan, moving from a Best Of to an Outstanding format. That changes it from a list RSR is creating, using the reviewers’ rankings and reviews to do it, to simply drawing attention to and discussing what the reviewers are saying — a round-up instead of an endorsement list that is officially created by RSR as RSR content from the reviewers’ contributions. Evidently, I have not done a good enough job clearly expressing the difference between the two frames of the material and why one is a problem ethically in terms of the reviewers’ rights to their own material and why the other is not. But I think it’s great that you are listening to readers and, for that matter, to the reviewers whose work you’re highlighting, and making a change accordingly. If RSR does want to do a Best Of list of some sort in the future, the simplest thing to do is just have RSR staff assemble it based on their own opinions instead of outside reviewers. Or get selected reviewers to voluntarily contribute to such a Best Of list, (giving permission.) Either way, such a Best Of list won’t ruffle feathers from its compilation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kat Goodwin: That changes it from a list RSR is creating, using the reviewers’ rankings and reviews to do it, to simply drawing attention to and discussing what the reviewers are saying

        Please, just stop digging, Kat. All they’ve changed is the title, from an absolutist “Best” to a relative “Outstanding”.

        The RSR page was never what you said it was, and them changing the title did not change that.


      • The absolutist of Best Of — which is RSR’s designation — to a relative Outstanding — which removes RSR’s designation — is more than window dressing, J.J. The first puts words in the reviewers’ mouths as contributors — that these are the Best Of POC authors — and the second does not. And that creates a difference in what RSR is doing, how they are presenting the information, which changes how the material from the reviewers is used. But since I can’t seem to get people to understand the distinction concerning a Best Of list, believe me, I’ve done my last posts on it. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        • I think most of us can agree that “best of” is a poor title. But that criticism applies to all sorts of “best of” lists, not just RSR’s.

          And fixing it was a very easy proposition that didn’t require any of this I’m-too-precious-to-be-mentioned-on-the-RSR-website and I-believe-in-consent drama.

          A simple “hey, could you use a different title for your list” would have sufficed.

          Liked by 1 person

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