Today’s correspondent writes to tell me that the content of my blog has been used in disciplinary proceedings against a member of the RFS. They want to know whether I was aware of that and whether I had given specific permission for the use of the blog in those proceedings.  They quote the comment I wrote on the page ‘Publications’.  There I say:

You are free to download the material here for your personal use, as a training aid or for fair comment.  If you do use the material in any way, I reserve my intellectual property rights (including moral rights).  In any use you must acknowledge my authorship and the source of the material.

The links on that page include links to articles published in journals and books where I do not hold the copyright.  That is a page about those publications rather than the blog itself. 

Whether it’s published material or the blog itself, the  problem is once something is published it is out there and can be quoted or relied on as people see fit. As the author I cannot know what use people make of it nor could I practically stop them unless they were making commercial profit from it.

With respect to the specific issue, I have had no communication with anyone, nor given permission for my blog to be use in disciplinary proceedings, but I don’t think I need to.   Using my blog to help identify applicable law – ie to research what the law is and then citing the blog as a source – would I suggest fit within the concept of ‘fair dealing’ for the purpose of research (Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) s 40). 

I write the blog to help inform relevant stakeholders on what the law – or at least the law as I understand it – is. And one day the RFS may want to rely on the blog to say ‘this is what Eburn thinks the law is’ and on another occasion it may be a person who is trying to hold the RFS to account. I am (hopefully) neutral in regard to those positions – if I help everyone understand the law then the consequences fall where they may. The blog is for the benefit of RFS members and the RFS (and other agencies).

The advantage of the blog, and what separates the blog from legal advice, is that it is public. This means it is available to everyone.  If it has been relied upon to someone’s detriment, that person can also see what I wrote and may, if they like, argue that I’ve been misunderstood or misquoted, that what I said doesn’t apply in the circumstances or that I was wrong.  And if I’m not wrong and the conclusion is relevant then it’s better that everyone understands the law and can then make their decisions accordingly.

In short, I am not aware of the blog being referred to as part of disciplinary action against a NSW RFS member, but I can no more object to that than I can object to someone relying on one of my textbooks as a guide to the law.  It is not only unobjectionable, it is why I and other academics write what we do – to communicate the law so that the law can be understood, critiqued if necessary and relied on where appropriate.

This blog is made possible with generous financial support from the Australasian College of Paramedicine, the Australian Paramedics Association (NSW), Natural Hazards Research Australia, NSW Rural Fire Service Association and the NSW SES Volunteers Association. I am responsible for the content in this post including any errors or omissions. Any opinions expressed are mine, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or understanding of the donors.