Content Copyright and Fair Use

© is the copyright symbol
Image via Wikipedia

There is an increasing vehemence in the manner that traditional media are pursuing blog owners who reproduce their content.

Take the recently reported case of the Las Vegas Review-Journal which is in litigious mood and according to an LA Times article is taking some 30 websites and blogs to court.

It raises the very important question – what is fair use?

Plagiarising large blogs of content from a third party site or publication is certainly not fair use. If however one draws attention to the original; reviewing and rewriting certain elements in the process, then this would appear to be deemed acceptable.

The advice in the article is that a publisher should:

* never republish more than three paragraphs
* always name your source
* always link to the original

Chris Crum of WebProNews quotes attorney John Burton “I strongly recommend receiving written authorization from the copyright holder prior to redistributing their work or link, especially if there is a commercial interest in why you are using the work”

The other side of this media argument is how frequently traditional media quote from online blogs, in many cases without prior permission being given by the content owner of an attribution made. One example of this practice is given by Danny Sullivan in his blog Daggle.

What all of the above really proves is just how threatened traditional media are by the rise of citizen journalism in the digital age.

It is quite appropriate that mainstream media who pay for, or commission, content should expect a financial return through its use. This after all is their core business.

However it is very much a case of trying to close the gate after the horse has bolted as many of the global and local news stories now break through citizen journalism sources rather than traditional media. Nothing is going to change this as it is now an established societal norm.

Perhaps the final word should be this video which has been viewed some 10 million times on YouTube.

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About thedigitalconsultant

Roger Smith is a retired international, digital consultant and former British Council Director of Online Operations within the East Asia region.
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One Response to Content Copyright and Fair Use

  1. Mike Vollmer says:

    Beyond just being vague, a major problem with applying fair use in practice is that if you don’t have enough legal power (money) to defend yourself, you basically have no right to fair use.

    If you’re an indie filmmaker working on a shoestring budget, just hiring a lawyer and going to court is prohibitively expensive. Say you use a 5 second audio clip — something that should really be covered by fair use — and the owner (a major corporation) threatens to sue you. What can you do? You fold. Even though you’re technically in the right, in practice you’re screwed.

    The problem is, the maze of copyright is meant to be navigated by corporations and corporate lawyers. They’re good at this sort of thing, and the little guy isn’t. Copyright/IP law today isn’t really meant to protect creative works, though it occasionally does that. It’s largely meant to protect the big guys. The law essentially gives them control over the production of popular culture, because they’re the only ones with the resources to navigate the legal maze.

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