18 June 2008

Associated Press, bloggers and the "fair use" concept

Associated Press (AP) is in the middle of a controversy over its recently announced policy requiring Internet sites to pay the news service for printing excerpts of its stories even in cases where the excerpt is as little as five words long.

The issue centres on copyright and contending definitions of what constitutes "fair use". Until now, "fair use" has allowed bloggers and others to use short extracts from AP news stories. In the case which triggered the spat, links to the original AP story were provided. AP will now expect payment for each use.

As Standford University Library's website notes, fair use is based on the belief that individuals may freely use portions of copyrighted materials for commentary and criticism. That's a paraphrase, by the way; if you want the full text please follow the link provided. It's important to note at this juncture that there are some differences in Canadian and American copyright law, but the concepts of "fair use" or "fair dealing" are generally similar.

You'll see plenty of quoting done at Bond Papers, typically to illustrate a point and to give proper credit to the source of the original quote or idea. The point is not to claim credit for someone else's ideas or words nor is the idea to deny any sort of financial gain due to a copyright holder for the sale of the rights to reproduce the work.

On occasions in the past, Bond Papers provided full articles and in one case the copyright holder protested. Since the copyright holder was absolutely right in its contention that the practice infringed on its copyright, the practice stopped. Short excerpts are used and in all cases, a link to the original, full text is provided. There was no demand to remove the old materials but were the same copyright holder to make the request, compliance would be forthcoming.

It's really pretty simple, in that respect.

Likewise, Bond Papers has pretty much eliminated the use of images to illustrate posts since, even though the images may be widely available through the Internet, and even though wordmarks or other efforts were made to indicate the source of the image, the likelihood of violating copyright outweighed the value of the image. If Bond Papers was a commerical site, we could factor in payments to rights holders as part of the cost of doing business. Since the site doesn't generate any revenue, it's simply easier not to use other people's work unless there is some overwhelmingly positive benefit from doing so. Then we'd deal with the issue of seeking permission.

Changes to the copyright law have turned out to be a divisive issue in Canada. Michael Geist is one of many in Canada who are criticizing Bill C-61, a bill to change the existing copyright law in Canada. Local photographer Greg Locke recently wrote about the benefit to professional photographers of the bill. Locke notes that the bill finally puts image creators on the same copyright footing as other creative people. google the terms and names used in this paragraph and you'll find an endless stream of news coverage and commentary on the subject.

When Bond Papers started, the idea of quoting bits of articles or stories and providing links reflected nothing more than the age old academic practice of citation. Fair use allowed for the use of an idea, provided proper credit was given and provided that some reference was offere dto enable a reader to check for himself or herself that what was attributed to an individual was actually what the individual said.

That practice remains and until someone wipes out that notion of fair use - there's no sign of that yet - then that's what the practice around these parts will be.