Sunday, June 13, 2010

Intellectual Property Rights: Yes, They Matter

"On the Media: Las Vegas Review-Journal bares its claws"
James Rainey, Entertainment, Los Angeles Times (June 9, 2010)

"The newspaper has filed lawsuits against more than 30 websites and blogs it says used its works without permission. So what is fair use?

"The newspaper people had me pretty much in their corner until they went after the cat people.

"Allegra and Emerson Wong have a website called City Felines Blog. A few months back, the cat people posted a story about the suffering of a bunch of birds that died in a fire at a wildlife sanctuary.

"That created a problem, not because cat people shouldn't write about birds, but because the story had been reported, edited and published originally not by the cat people but by the newspaper people, otherwise known as the staff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal...."

The Wongs - and something like three dozen other websites and blogs - are in trouble. The Wongs face a federal copyright infringement lawsuit. The Los Angeles Times column implies that the other three-dozen-or-so online publishers do, too.

The problem? They used Review-Journal stories without permission. And, again by implication, entire stories, not excerpts.

That, in my opinion, wasn't very smart.

Hypocritical? No: Critical

So, how can the Lemming be so high-and-mighty? This blog quotes other people's work all the time.

Make that parts of other people's work. With rare exceptions - like the recurring Disapproving Rabbits and Cute Overload micro-reviews - I quote excerpts of the posts and articles I discuss. I'm careful to establish who published what I'm reviewing, where they published it - with a link to the source - and when it was published (when I can determine that).

The photos? I've started copying the originals, storing copies on one of my domains, using my copy for the bandwidth-eating graphic displayed here - and making the image a clickable link back to my original source.

Here's an example, from one of this week's posts:

(from Whitney, via Disapproving Rabbits, used w/o permission)

That photo of a rabbit is a copy of the original, stored and accessed on my dime, with a link back to the Disapproving Rabbits post I found it on.

A distinction - and an important one - between what I do on this blog, and full-bore plagiarizing, is that these posts are micro-reviews. Emphasis on "reviews." I discuss what I found, say what I think of it, give a sample (or the whole thing, when the text is six words, as with that photo's post), and move on.

I get to write my commentary and criticism, like any other reviewer, the folks who created the content I review get free publicity, and I have - to the best of my knowledge - operated well within the "fair use" envelope of American law.
What's "Fair Use?" Good Question
Not that anybody really seems to know what is - and is not - "fair use."

Back to that Los Angeles Times column:

"...The rub has been where to draw the line to determine what, exactly, constitutes 'fair use.' Stacks of court cases suggest many factors must be weighed — the amount of material reused, the purpose of the reuse (commentary and criticism get wide latitude) and, especially, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, the economic effect on the copyright holder...."

I'm concerned about the "economic effect" of the copyright holder, myself: since in addition to these micro-reviews, I create original content. Taking Disapproving Rabbits as an example, again: Anybody who sees one of my micro-reviews of a Disapproving Rabbits post and likes what he or she sees can click right out of this blog to Disapproving Rabbits. If they're smart, they'll go to Disapproving rabbits from that point on, to get that blog's daily update.

Which is fine by me. This blog is about 'interesting stuff' I find online, for the most part. Sometimes that's rabbits: most of the time it's not.

Good Guys, Bad Guys, and Everybody Else

I've got a fairly well-defined attitude about what is and isn't reasonable, when it comes to jumping on the throat of some slob who - - - No, I'm not going to finish that sentence. Scroll to the bottom of this post, for a link to a list of the Lemming's posts about intellectual property. Or, no: you choice.

My position is that:
  • Some bloggers and webmasters rip off the intellectual property created by others.
    • They may or may not be aware that they're doing anything wrong.
    • There have been some - interesting - ideas about property and respect floating in the lagoon of American culture over the last few decades.
  • Some 'proper, respectable,' old-media bosses have exaggerated ideas about how much control they have over what the common lot may do.
    • That's being polite about it.
  • Most folks don't fit into either of those two categories.
    • At least, I hope not.
So, what can a simple blogger do? Here's the last excerpt from that Los Angeles Times column. If you're a blogger or run a website, I strongly recommend that you read the whole column.

"...Two Web journalists who Twittered me on Tuesday independently offered the same rule of thumb —- don't republish more than three paragraphs. Always name your source. Always link to the original...."

That's really close to the guidelines I use. Obviously, I don't stick strictly to the "three paragraphs" rule. Not when each paragraph is a short sentence. Or, in cases like this post, where the original is a column over a thousand words long: and I'm trying to give a hint as to how much ground it covers.

I'm strongly inclined to think that the last two points in that bit of advice are the most important:
  • Always name your source
  • Always link to the original
Partly because that's close to the rules of scholarship I learned:
  • If you copy someone's work, and tell who you're copying from
    • That's scholarship
  • If you copy someone's work, and claim you wrote it
    • That's plagiarism
My take on intellectual property rights:


Brigid said...

They may be reviews, but sometimes they aren't very micro. Well, by your standards they are. :P

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Indeed: I do go on (and on) at length sometimes, don't I?

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