The suggestion has in the past been made that I have behaved illegally, or at the very least unethically, by quoting things which people have posted on home education lists. A few days ago, somebody here compared me to a mugger, while another commented that I was like somebody who intercepted a private letter and broadcast the contents. It might be as well to look at these ideas, because the thinking behind them is distorted and irrational.
The first thing to bear in mind is that precisely the same rules and laws apply to communications on the internet as apply elsewhere. These cover both letters and general publications. The writer of any letter, email, article or book has the copyright for that thing, whether on the internet or anywhere else. This does not mean that people cannot quote the writer, as long as the quotation is within the bounds of 'fair use'. We shall look at this idea in a minute. Before we do so, let us ask ourselves what category posts on a subscriber only list like HE-UK might come under. Are they letters? If so, are they ordinary letters or are they either commercial letters or private and confidential letters? They are very rarely commercial letters and can hardly be regarded as private and confidential. One does not send a private letter to thousands of strangers! They are not really letters at all. The only sensible way of viewing them is as articles in a newsletter which is being distributed to many subscribers.
In ordinary life, the best comparison for lists like this is perhaps a church newsletter or one for a group with a specialist interest. Such things are not really private, many other people read them apart from those to whom they are sent. The copyright position is clear. The writers of the contributions retain their ownership of the copyright and nobody can take their work and try and pass it off as their own. One can quote from it and summarise the contents for others. One should also attribute the thing to whoever wrote it. This sort of thing comes under fair use, which is designed to allow people to comment on articles, review books and so on. As long as an extract is short and one does not try pretend it is one's own work, this is quite legal. If somebody quoted from one of my articles or books, I would have no case against her for breach of copyright in general.
So much for the legal aspects of the thing. What about ethical considerations? Does quoting from such a piece in a newsletter really put one in the same class as a mugger? It is hard to see how. Just as the law on copyright is the same on the internet, so too are the rules of common sense. How much information would one include in an article to the church newsletter? Would one be shocked or surprised if an anonymous piece on one's parenting problems in the church newsletter was mentioned elsewhere; say in the local newspaper? If you wrote for the newsletter under a pseudonym, would it be unethical for others to say, 'Oh, I bet that's Mary Smith'? How angry would one be if one gave details of some personal problem anonymously in the church newsletter and later saw that a newspaper had mentioned that a member of some church had such and such problem?
In short, the legal position for anybody posting on an internet list is clear. They retain the copyright for what they are writing. This also applies for emails in general, although there are special cases. If somebody quotes a piece that you have published on the internet, this is quite acceptable, although they should usually attribute it to you. If you are posting anonymously, there is nothing to stop anybody trying to guess your true identity. There are exceptions to this. In the case of wide publication on an internet list; you must take your chances. If I were to post anonymously and then be unmasked, I would hardly be in a position to complain; I would have done better to be honest and open in the first place.
I hope that this has made things a little clearer for readers. Legally and ethically, the same rules apply on the internet as apply in everyday life. If one considers it unethical to pass on an anecdote from a local church newsletter, then of course one will view a similar action on the internet in the same light. Few of us have such a scrupulous moral code as this! There is always a hazard in publishing an article anywhere, whether on the internet or in a magazine. One of the hazards of publishing an anonymous piece is that people will figure out who you are. This can be awkward for one, but is hardly criminal or even unethical behaviour on the part of the person doing the guessing! Simply use the same rules of common sense on the internet as you would in ordinary life and you will not go far wrong. There are no special rules for home educators in this respect; they have to go by the same code and take the same chances as everyone else.