Reddit has over 200 million users. While most millennials spend their social media time on Instagram or Facebook, I go to reddit for breaking news, pictures of cute puppies, and “shitty writing prompts”.
But reddit encompasses so much more than that. It was originally created to share the “best of the internet” with its users. Today, it does that and then some.
There are hundreds of subreddits (forums within reddit) for any and all tastes and hobbies, where you can get advice on everything from baking bread to personal finance and relationship issues. People share stories from their lives that are often either funny, devastating, or both. Millions of people create and consume billions of words on reddit each day. Reddit users are a perfect example of a “prosumer”, having a hand in producing the content for their favorite site. Its uncensored nature is what allows users to feel free enough to add their own thoughts to the mix, thereby adding to its value.
(This freedom also spawns some of the subreddits that I stay away from, like that of Donald Trump’s fanbase or the one where men write about how they should treat women with disrespect to succeed in the dating world. Reddit is unique in that it offers every opinion on the spectrum, from the thought-provoking to the repulsive.)
In 2011, one user jokingly drew up a magazine cover mocking the reddit community for its flaws, explaining new memes, and highlighting its greatest posts – and other users loved it. Many offered their time and talents to make the magazine a reality, and soon enough the first issue of The Redditor was available online.
The creators spent countless hours of their free time curating the “best” content from reddit for their monthly online mag, for no pay. Seven issues later, in 2012, they abruptly stopped, despite The Redditor’s growing readership and the creators’ insistence that they would continue working on it for free.
So what happened?
At the time, reddit was owned by Conde Nast. While at first the company was happy to see reddit more widely represented and users getting actively involved, it reached a point where the company stated that any content posted to reddit was under their copyright, so they wanted full control over the magazine.
“Reddit basically wanted us to sign a letter giving them the website, the magazine, and our idea if we did anything that they did not like which was in the fine print of the contract agreement. We didn’t want to corrupt our vision and give up our idea if they didn’t like something we put in the magazine, so we quit.”
reddit user /ohblair, 2015
Many users who had come to expect a new issue of The Redditor every month were left disappointed and confused. When the news spread, some users suggested renaming the magazine and getting the content that is on reddit straight from the users themselves, thereby avoiding any legal issues with Conde Nast. But then, what would it be but a magazine full of random, unrelated content from a bunch of strangers? It wouldn’t be able to maintain its original mission, and therefore it just couldn’t be.
This raises the important question of where to draw the line between freedom to use content and enforcing strict copyright law. In this case, a company’s desire for full control of their users’ content ironically resulted in a loss of readership, and a loss of trust.
What was there to be lost by allowing The Redditor to continue? Perhaps Conde Nast believed it would one day be profitable, but even so, squashing a passionate team that was willing to spread reddit’s content more widely at no cost was not in Conde Nast’s best interest. Was it greed, fear of losing control, or just lawyers being lawyers? All we can do is consider our current copyright laws and discuss what policies can be put into place to ensure that content can be spread and creativity can be nourished, without stealing from the creators.
Reddit is now owned by Conde Nast’s parent company, Advance Publications, which is largely uninvolved and gave much of the control back to the reddit community. Like my fellow redditors, I hope that this means The Redditor will one day return.
by Leili Ansari