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Author Topic: Quoting and Fair Use on a Blog: How Much is Too Much?  (Read 3237 times)
Ellen M.
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« Topic Start: May 16, 2011, 07:57:44 am »

I've recently started up a new blog and have run into uncertain territory when it comes to quoting from articles and books and what consists of fair use. For the post I'm working on, I'd like to excerpt about 250 words from this article by Margot Adler with full intention of linking back to this URL and citing Adler as the author. Later on I also intend to do book reviews in which I also quote passages.

I know that on TC there's a certain limit to how much of another author's work we can post even with attribution. Does this apply to blogs, and is there a general reference to how much I can quote?
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« Reply #1: May 16, 2011, 08:05:13 am »

I've recently started up a new blog and have run into uncertain territory when it comes to quoting from articles and books and what consists of fair use. For the post I'm working on, I'd like to excerpt about 250 words from this article by Margot Adler with full intention of linking back to this URL and citing Adler as the author.

If you are to to comment on or discuss it in detail, that is might not be too much (but it also might be as the article is short). Too much is very subjective and not well defined in law. Sad

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Later on I also intend to do book reviews in which I also quote passages.

Book reviews are much clearer ground, not only are books much longer (250 words from a 2500 word article is 10% of the article while 250 words from a 50,000 word short book is about 0.5% of the book) but if you look at the Copyright notice in books most publishers have some type of "except for short passages in reviews" type of note. They WANT book reviews or their books don't sell.

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« Reply #2: May 16, 2011, 09:37:16 am »

I've recently started up a new blog and have run into uncertain territory when it comes to quoting from articles and books and what consists of fair use. For the post I'm working on, I'd like to excerpt about 250 words from this article by Margot Adler with full intention of linking back to this URL and citing Adler as the author. Later on I also intend to do book reviews in which I also quote passages.

I know that on TC there's a certain limit to how much of another author's work we can post even with attribution. Does this apply to blogs, and is there a general reference to how much I can quote?

I usually do a short summary and only quote short sections and/or link back to the original article (where possible of course). I haven't done any book reviews but would be a lot looser regarding them as has already been pointed out. Alternately if possible you may want to email or otherwise contact the site where the article is hosted and ask their preferences. Assuming of course that they're hosting the article with permission in the first place Smiley
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« Reply #3: May 16, 2011, 10:24:39 am »

I've recently started up a new blog and have run into uncertain territory when it comes to quoting from articles and books and what consists of fair use. For the post I'm working on, I'd like to excerpt about 250 words from this article by Margot Adler with full intention of linking back to this URL and citing Adler as the author. Later on I also intend to do book reviews in which I also quote passages.

Basically, what you're talking about is fair use - and fair use is basically a defense in court if you get challenged, rather than a clear cut set of limits that you can follow without fear. That means that the only way to determine what's really fair use is a court case looking at specific set of circumstances.

The good news is that a) reviews are a pretty well-known sort of work and b) they're quite easy to apply the fair use standards to.

The other good news is that generally, suits happen because a) a use is costing the creator money/sales/income or b) the use is insulting or destructive to their reputation/business/etc. A thoughtful review that backs up its commentary doesn't usually fall into these categories, even if it's not totally positive and glowing about the work. If someone *does* sue, the first step is that you'd be asked to take the material down: if you chose not to do so, the next step would be court (which is complicated and expensive, generally.)

Basically, fair use looks at four factors:
The nature of the work: sharing information (generally non-fiction) is more likely to be considered fair use than sharing art/entertainment (fiction, poetry, art images, etc.), because copyright law is supposed to allow sharing of information for the general benefit of the larger culture.

(Also, unpublished works get more protection than published ones, because the creator is considered to have a strong say in the original appearance of the work.)

The nature of the use: : There's a difference between sharing a quote you like (non-transformative) and quoting something so you can review/critique/analyse/etc. the work. The more transformative the use is, the more likely it's fair use. (Basically: what does your use of the quote add to or change about the understanding of the original work? The more it reflects new content or understanding or analysis, the better off you are.)

The effect on the market: This is a complicated one, because what you (the person using the material) thinks doesn't matter as much as what the creator or publisher thinks. (So, you can't just say "Oh, well, any publicity is good publicity" and assume it's okay.)

That said, reviews are a really standard use that's considered to be generally to the benefit of the creator (because it does bring attention to the work), so they're generally considered neutral-to-positive, as long as none of the other factors here are abused.

The amount used: This is the one where you'd think there'd be some kind of clear guideline - but no, there isn't. In general, less is more (parodies get some different standards), and you need to be particularly careful about using material that would be considered the heart of the work.

You'll see all sorts of standards out there - 250 words is really common, for example - but these are best guesses, and pretty much every one of those standards has been challenged and broken in court. (and it gets far more complicated for things like poems, lyrics, etc.) Generally, longer works, you can get away with longer quoted amounts - the usual guideline for articles is no more than 10% (and I'd probably err on the side of 5%) and no more than 250 words. (It might help to remember that 250 words is actually quite a lot of text - it's about a manuscript page - so often quoting a sentence or two and then paraphrasing/summarising the rest might work well.)

In general, though, quoting as lightly as you can, and making sure that the quotes are necessary to illustrate your specific points is the safest way to go. (You can paraphrase, summarise, etc. the work as well - and that's not a problem with copyright. For other reasons, you want to make sure you identify the source clearly, of course.)

So, for example, you might be fine quoting 500 words from a book-length work as long as those 500 words were necessary for your argument, you were offering specific commentary/critique for each passage, etc. Someone else might get in trouble for quoting 20 words from a work if those 20 words were the unique heart of the work, and if it was quoted just because they liked the quote (with no commentary/critique/etc.)

How I usually do it is to look at what I want to quote, and see if there's another way to say what I want without quoting. If there is, I do that. If there isn't, I quote - but I've got a good reason then for why I quoted it. (and if I'm particularly concerned about possible challenges, I make notes about that in my draft.)

Some useful resources:
- http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/chapter9/index.html
- http://fairuse.stanford.edu/charts_tools/
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« Reply #4: May 17, 2011, 04:35:32 pm »


Thanks so much Jenett (and Asch, and Randall) for your thoughtful responses. With the post in question I decided to halve the quoted segment, just to be on the safe side. I'll reread through all this information the next time I need it for a post. Wink
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