Do We Need More Online Education With Regards to Fair Use Copyright Laws?

If you are an online article author, perhaps like me, then occasionally you run across your articles after they’ve been ripped off, plagiarized, or outright stolen. Perhaps, when you’ve contacted the content thief, they’ve given you some song and dance about the so-called “fair use” rule in copyright law. Well, it appears to me that the online community could use a little bit of online on-going education on this issue if you ask me. Okay so let’s talk.

A little over a year ago, I had written a piece titled; “Copyright Laws Are Serious and You Have the Right to Defend Your Work!” I was explaining that just because there were copyright laws out there didn’t mean that the government was going to back you up, and indeed it was the responsibility of the individual claiming the copyright to defend their work. Anyway, after I wrote that piece someone asked me some rather important questions about copyright and the internet – specifically about the fair use doctrine.

Fair use has to do with a specific part of the copyright law which allows for folks to use certain excerpts to make a point or statement, allowing one to borrow the quotes with citation, as long as it was only an excerpt and that they added substantially by giving more information, a second opinion, or value to the new idea being brought forth.

Now then, a fellow author, Heather, asks about this fair use principle in copyright law; “I have two questions (1) What is fair use of an original article on the Internet? and (2) Is it acceptable to use original content as the starter for a new article if your intention is to comment, criticize or develop a concept initially raised in the original article?”

Heather also notes that; many people in the US believe that pursuant to the First Amendment they have a right to comment on anything that is published on the Internet, so the real question is how do you distinguish a legitimate comment from a “stolen” article that provides no added value? This is the million dollar question.

Heather is right, I totally agree with her on her take on the fair use doctrine. Indeed, this is the million dollar question. Further, and as an article author myself with over 1000s of opinion articles, I often write opinions on what I read in the media. I especially like to comment to clear up falsehoods, or misconceptions, or politically leaning arguments which I disagree with.

My rule of thumb, and this is what I do for my own personal use, is I always cite the article, the author of the article, the date of the article, the name of the publication, and never more than five lines of text. In doing this generally my articles of four, five, or 600 words, it turns out to be very little, and I know I’ve satisfied the fair use rules.

Heather further notes; “as the Internet expands the question is one worth finding an answer to, one that the average user can understand and choose to comply with. It will be interesting to see if users create their own forums to resolve these kinds of disputes particularly since it potentially raises international jurisdictional issues.”

Yes, I agree with Heather’s views on this, there’s a lot of copyright infringement on the Internet, and there are many international laws which do not include the US fair use “excerpt” doctrines, whether real or imaginary as to what those laws actually are now, due to on-going case law from internet usage. Indeed, many folks have stolen articles, including my own, so I know exactly what Heather is driving at and saying here, and I couldn’t agree more. Folks who are cheating and claiming “fair use” when they rip off entire articles know or should have known that they are stealing works, and those who post entire articles to Internet forums are not doing the ethical thing.

What they should do is perhaps put a link to the article, along with perhaps five lines of text, with proper citation. Well, that’s the way I see it, and I’ve never gotten into any trouble doing it that way, after having written tens of thousands of articles now. not once has anyone ever called me on it.

In fact, generally when the authors do contact me on those particular articles, they thank me for citing them. It’s the least I can do, and I totally and fully understand Heather’s comments, and I agree with her wholeheartedly about this issue. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who cares. And the issues of international copyright law will be a bridge we must soon cross, and that will be a world-wide challenge, thus, I hope we adopt US law and that is the new paradigm globally. Please consider all this and think on it.

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