Fair Use, Fair Game

Checking out NRO articles this morning I found an interesting disclaimer at the top of the article Planned Parenthood Matters:

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact Carmen Puello at cpuello@unitedmedia.com.

134406718_b31d61b62d_mThe article is an interesting read but I kept coming back to this disclaimer and the inherent threat of who knows what should I decide to quote any part of this article without first reaching out to United Media.  Admittedly it’s not hard to ask for permission, just e-mail and see what happens.  And for all I know Ms. Puello will say sure and just remind me of what I’m about to remind everyone else of.  But that step isn’t needed, the permission to excerpt because of the glorious rules of Fair Use. How does that apply here?  Comment and criticism:

If you are commenting upon or critiquing a copyrighted work–for instance, writing a book review — fair use principles allow you to reproduce some of the work to achieve your purposes. Some examples of commentary and criticism include:

  • quoting a few lines from a Bob Dylan song in a music review
  • summarizing and quoting from a medical article on prostate cancer in a news report
  • copying a few paragraphs from a news article for use by a teacher or student in a lesson, or
  • copying a portion of a Sports Illustrated magazine article for use in a related court case.

The underlying rationale of this rule is that the public benefits from your review, which is enhanced by including some of the copyrighted material. Additional examples of commentary or criticism are provided in the examples of fair use cases.

You don’t need permission to excerpt if you’re trying to provide context for your argument.  Just don’t cut and paste the entire article and give credit where it’s due.  Not only is this fair use but it’s Citation 101 – selectively quote your sources, cite your sources, don’t steal anything that’s not yours.

There are plenty of questions as to what constitutes fair use – whether there are limits to the number of characters or words one can reproduce before they are outright thieving.  This is especially relevant on a large scale given AP’s threat last week to take “all actions necessary” against content piracy.

On a local scale, though, there is a micro-battle brewing about fair use working the other way around.  Last week, Media General’s Richmond.com rebranded, tore down it’s old looks, threw up it’s new Richmond MySpace-esque site*, and said that part of its content would be aggregated from local blogs. So Richmond.com, as part of this new, hip, social media thing was going to be providing content not only generated by users and a paid staff but by bloggers who aren’t necessarily opting into RDC.  And making money off of it.  Which leads to the question:

@richmonddotcom Any plans on revenue sharing with content providers on #richmonddotcom?


The response is a little glib, but that they responded at all is to be commended.

A Twitter debate followed among some bloggers where fair use was brought up as well as folks either saying they really didn’t mind or they particularly minded because it infringed on their content rights.

One of the biggest arguments with the Richmond.com model is that there isn’t enough done to show where the meat is coming from.  It’s a matter of attribution and affiliation and that also had a flare up on a larger scale last week when AllThingsD, a site owned by Dow Jones, posted a link to Joshua Schachter’sarticle about URL shorteners.  Josh’s response was short and to the point:

what the hell is this?

He wasn’t impressed.

Andy Baio at Waxy.org has a good write up of the whole thing, as well as reactions and explanations.  One that stands out and hits my point home is from43Folders‘ Merlin Mann:

Republishing online work without consent and wrapping it in ads is often called "feed scraping." At AllThingsD, it's called "a compliment."

Andy Baio gets to the real heart of the matter when he says “the presentation makes it very hard to distinguish between original contributions“. And that’s the key – properly attributing the work not just in name but in looks as to distinguish what is being borrowed from what is truly original content.  If you start mixing the two together, you start confusing the audience, whether purposefully and maliciously or merely out of laziness.

The other problem with Richmond.com is they’re unapologetic about it.  “For aggregated content, we share by directing traffic to your site and ads.“  That is assuming that the site RDC is redirecting to has advertising or a structure to take advantage of any traffic.

That leads to the argument of the difference between professional media and independent media.

It is one thing for blogs to use mainstream media for meat and to feed readers to an outlet that is built and structured around a for-profit model that is designed to take advantage of any traffic that comes their way.  They are ready to make the sale, push an advertisement, any number of avenues for revenue.

When mainstream media outlets do the reverse, using the content of blogs for meat, if they properly link and attribute (which is rare, even on media websites), they are feeding readers to a site that is not set up to take advantage of the traffic and thereby help the original author.  There is no structure in place to take advantage of such a referral for personal or financial gain.

Both ways the mainstream media wins.

RDC tries to win many times over.  When linking to community blogs they don’t make it easy to actually GET to the community blogs. You know, actually direct traffic to their sites and ads.

Visit RDC’s News & Views.  Just this once.  Scroll down past the advertisements and get to the actual list of News & Views.  Pick any one of those articles.  Click on it.  Guess what?  You’re not done yet!  No, you now have another page of RDC ads to scroll through, the title, the first few words, THEN there’s a link you get to click on to finally get to the community blog that provided this meat.

Whatever they can do to keep you on their site is good for them.  The appearance of meat, of community news and involvement furthers this business model.

This issue is only going to grow as more and more newspapers switch to online models to save their failing business plans.  They’re going to seek “community content” which usually equals “free content” and laugh all the way to the bank while the content providers are left working for someone and seeing no reward for their efforts.

Attribution is key.  Affiliation is key.  There has got to be something to thoroughly distinguish original content from aggregated content and not only that but reward accordingly.  If Richmond.com has three restaurant reviews written in house by paid staff but then links to ten written on EatingRichmond.com, well, who does that serve?  RDC, who can charge higher ad rates, show greater traffic and utilize other people’s content to inflate their own size?  Or EatingRichmond.com, which is run part time by a handful of people, is a blog that has no marketing team or structure to sell advertising and can at best rely upon Google Ads that pays pennies on the click?

This is not to say that most folks blog for money.  I certainly don’t.  There are very few that truly profit off of blogging.

The point is, not only do I not blog to make myself money, I certainly don’t blog to make anyone else money.

Other posts worth reading on the subject are Anil Dash’s “Fair Use For Fair People” and Jason Kottke’s “Extreme Borrowing In The Blogosphere”

*There is a whole blog post waiting to be written about the marketing thoughts behind destroying one already established brand in the effort to create a hip, “new” brand that merely provides yet another social network to an audience that has had plenty of social networks to choose from for five years now but one that also directly competes with community created and driven website likeRVANews, community blogs like CHPN and others, but that’s for another day.

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