It seems like a great idea at the time- you, and a couple of internet buddies decide to get together and create a website together. You have massive plans to take the internet by storm, because this will be the greatest website ever created!

At first, things go smashingly. Your website gets traffic, and what started as a group blog turns into a podcast, which then sparks other ideas and further content.

Eventually, as always happens, life gets in the way. The excitement dies down, the enthusiasm fades, and possibly so do the relationships of those involved. Gradually the site starts to gather dust, disturbed only by residual traffic from the places it was syndicated.

So what happens if one day one of the content creators decides that for whatever reason, they no longer want that old stuff online?  “Take it down”, they say, “My posts and the audio content I helped create.” No matter what the group dynamics, the question becomes this- who holds the rights to digital content that was created with more than one person involved?

My thought initially was that in the case of one person writing a post for a group blog, that if they decide they want it pulled, it’s their content to pull, right?

Not always. Without a written agreement, the water starts to get a little muddy.

When someone willingly posts to a site, there is no question of consent to the use or syndication of their content. It’s a given that when you post something online, it gets sent out to wherever that feed goes, and it is stored in the great internet memory pretty much forever. To pull the original posts might take them off the first site, but the information will still be held in other places, and so it will not be truly erased by any means. The only real result might be some broken links, which is certainly not a help to anyone involved, especially a site that still sends residual traffic. The point is once it’s out there, it’s out there.

Google forgets nothing.

The same goes with podcasts, only the lines are less blurry. You can’t take one person’s voice out of a podcast, so in theory the podcast belongs to the group as a whole, and in actuality it belongs to whoever owns the space it is hosted on. You can demand something you contributed to be removed, but if you are not the sole owner, it is not actually yours to remove, so long as you consented to being a part of it to begin with.(Clearly recordings done without the other person’s knowledge fall into a different category altogether.)

As we were discussing this today, Paul came up with a great analogy regarding group sites and digital content rights. He described it like a book, written by two co-authors, with a preface by a third. Three years after publication, should one of those authors decide they don’t like what they did, or don’t care for the other co-authors, they can’t come back and demand the book be recalled and their pages removed.

As blogging becomes more prolific and more content is created digitally, people need to become aware of what happens to their collaborative content past the initial creation phase, especially when handing that content over to someone else’s domain.

Once you give content to another site, there is no asking for it back.