Third Voice Revisited

1999: Third Voice is a plugin for Internet Explorer for Windows that allows Third Voice users to append comments to pages on the world wide web. These comments are available to anyone who uses Third Voice.

The biggest objections have come from webmasters. We really don’t like the idea of people putting notes on our sites. Further, we dislike the fact that we have no control over the use or abuse of Third Voice on our pages.

A key issue is that Third Voice stores these comments on its own server. There is nothing added to any page on the web. However, Third Voice does create an overlay with buttons that users may click to read notes.

Written requests to Third Voice, asking that they prevent anyone from appending notes to the sites I work with, have gone unanswered.

Of course, as a Mac user and a Netscape user, I have no way of knowing whether anyone has appended notes to anything on Low End Mac.

My initial article, Hands Off My Site, and a rebuttal by Larry Rosenstein, Third Voice and Copyright, have generated a lot of reader feedback.

The Wrong Analogy

Adrian Turkington writes, “I think Larry’s email regarding the Third Voice plugin is missing one major piece of information. VCRs are for private use, and you pretty much have control over what you see for yourself. Third Voice is public domain. Anyone with this plugin can post any ‘notes’ to any site they wish. Content is not only what you hold on the website, but what you see when you download the page. You have to think like a design artist, not a programmer. If this plugin gets out and visibly alters content in a very public manner that everyone can see, that’s not good for webmasters, especially if that web content is something that is not appropriate in any way (be it insults, pornography, warez, etc.).

“A better analogy is a public bulletin board. I see those kinds of bulletin boards all over, posting ads, notices, etc. I also see plenty of news bulletins posted to a website announcing new products etc. However, if I were Apple, or IBM, and people suddenly had the ability to post sticky notes on the front of my building saying “This company sucks” or “why buy this when you can pirate it for free” or “for free pornographic pictures of the CEO’s wife, go downtown to this store”, that’s just too much freedom.

“There are a few other issues, such as who has it, how it is distributed, etc. The perception, however, is that this alters content freely visible with more freely visible content from a completely different source, but displays it in the same place. I don’t understand why people don’t see this as a problem.

“For the record, I do not even have a personal website nor am I a webmaster and I don’t like this plugin.”

It’s a Great Idea

David Hindman writes, “Actually I think Third Voice is a great idea, since it turns one-way communication into two-way communication. That’s one thing that I’ve seen as deficient with web pages. There is no way for a reader to post disagreement with the site or add information – for the public. This ‘deficiency’ allows a website owner to lie with impunity, if they so desire. So, this method, of Third Voice, balances things out.

“You say –

I don’t like the idea that anyone with the right software can come to my site and leave a note for anyone else using Third Voice.

“And that’s exactly the advantage for the general public.

“And further you comment –

I don’t want anyone putting electronic graffiti on Low End Mac. It’s my site. If you don’t like it, stay away or create your own counter-site, but don’t vandalize my pages.

“The situation is that no one actually marks up your site. It’s all by means of accessing another database and you retrieve comments from another website – which comment on your website. That’s exactly what is being done when you say ‘create your own counter-site’. That’s precisely what Third Voice is – a ‘counter-site’ for the general public, and it’s actually in another place and another website.

“And then when you say, as a comment to Third Voice –

I hereby request that Third Voice respect the copyright and integrity of my web site – both the textual content and visual appearance – by blocking any Third Voice user from posting notes that would appear anywhere on mydomain.com.

“It’s ridiculous to think that your copyright is being violated when Third Voice has none of your material. All your material is being downloaded to the viewer’s computer. The viewer chooses whether to see what others say – or they don’t. But, Third Voice has none of your material.

“I see what you and other webmasters don’t like is the fact that websites are becoming more in the spirit of the Internet (open to the public) rather than a ‘closed society’ of webmasters alone (speaking in ‘one-way’ communication). Third Voice, of course, removes this ‘elitist privilege’ of the webmasters and puts the power back into the hands of the ‘people.’ Sorry if you don’t like ‘Internet way’ of doing things.”

Create Your Own Page

Brian Marsh writes, “He [Larry Rosenstein] raises the point that people can alter pages on their own machine (similar to editing out or adding things on a VCR after taping) or not having images turned on (or something to turn off ad banners, etc…)

“Third Voice does not remove content, it adds content, not directly to the main page, but for anyone viewing the website with the Third Voice plugin used, it’s as if it was part of the page

“From Third Wave’s website:

Third Voice does not interfere with other Web sites. Third Voice does not interfere with content on other Web sites. The software provides an ‘overlay’ – similar to a plastic transparency – through which readers can view, comment on and discuss Web content.

“Although, it anchors the ‘comments’ based on specific text, and from others using this software, it can cause changes in the layout for people viewing with the plugin.

“When is the last time you saw a video overlay on a TV program from a company other than the company broadcasting/creating the program? (TV networks each do overlays on sports games, their own commentary, etc., but they pay to do that, and that’s the closest instance I can think of.)

“I have absolutely nothing against free-speech, I do think however, that if you want to comment on a page, if that website doesn’t have a forum, create your own page, and notify news type websites relating to the topic of your page, or use newsgroups relating to the subject.

“This plugin is very similar to hijacking the signal and adding content… but only for those with specific/special ‘boxes’ to see the added content and allowing anyone with box to add content.

“Something like that would probably last all of a day or two before the Networks had them (definitely the company providing the service, and maybe people who posted content) in court.

“The plugin is of course entirely optional, and a small user base compared with all surfers out there… but the delivery is lacking… maybe just a searchable database on Third Voice’s website… you type in the URL of the website you want to see comments on, and it brings up just the comments on the specified website if any, with only brief quotes from the original website.”

Third Voice Violates Fair Use

Michael Lewis writes, “I read your article and Larry Rosenstein’s response with interest. At first glance it appears that Mr. Rosenstein’s arguments are very solid, but there is copyright case law which is going to make the debate on Third Voice very interesting and something to watch.

“For example, Third Voice says it is an ‘overlay’ which places its notes beside/atop the original site with little to no change of the site itself. However, when writing commentary, quoting material for use in your own writing is subject to the Fair Use Clause. One can’t quote the entire work, and, arguably, this can be shown to be just that.

“Arguments that the webmaster’s site is not being altered and that Third Voice’s servers are being used to display the “overlay’ are also very ephemeral under current broadcast and print case law. As an example, it is illegal to ‘piggyback’ one’s own signal over another broadcaster’s signal, and Third Voice is ostensibly doing just that when it uses it’s own servers (a.k.a. radio station) to ‘overlay’ its notes on your site design in a WWW browser which is still displaying your IP/DNS address. The vandalization comes into play since those who are unfamiliar with the ways of the Internet and computers will think the information they are seeing is coming from your site, not being rerouted from Third Voice and simply being displayed over/around a browser showing your address. How many television and radio broadcasters have had to field calls from irate viewers and listeners?

“Editing out commercials with a VCR? This is not a clear argument, considering that the taped show is for personal viewing and isn’t rebroadcast by the viewer or an agent. The commentary posted by Third Voice users is rebroadcast by Third Voice. If Third Voice only allowed personal annotation, we wouldn’t be having this debate.

“And, let us not forget that not all speech is protected under the Constitution. There are hundreds of cases over the last 210 years our Constitution has been in effect where reasonable people disagreed over whether they should be able to say this or that in this or that way and the Supreme Court has said, ‘No.’ I’m not saying that both sides of the Third Voice controversy don’t have their points. What I am saying is that no matter which side believes it is right, it is prior case law like this – and not wishes or obsequious arguments – that will determine how the law will be applied to current technology or how new laws will be developed, if necessary.”

I Still Don’t Like It

Third Voice is a clever hack. I can see legitimate uses for it. But I can also see it easily abused.

As a writer and webmaster, I feel that Third Voice infringes my copyright. I think Michael Lewis comes closest to something that could stand up in court: Third Wave creates a derived work in violation of Fair Use.

From a more philosophical perspective, it changes the medium itself. These pages are intended to have fixed content. They are not interactive – Adrian Turkington clearly recognizes that Third Voice changes the nature of static web pages.

Further, I must disagree that’s there’s something “elitist” about having a web page. Most ISPs provide email, internet access, and web space for as little as US$20 per month or less. And for those with even less resources, there are sites that provide free web space.

If you want to comment on my site, go ahead. Write me a letter. Write an editorial (I will publish well reasoned articles that I disagree with). Or publish it yourself.

Just don’t put sticky notes on my pages, especially notes that I can’t see. That’s not just rude, but elitist, since anyone not using Internet Explorer on Windows can’t read your comments.

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