CGP Grey touched on this in one of the episodes of his podcast, titled “Copyright Not Intended”, where he basically railed (politely) on people who knowingly steal or re-appropriate content without sufficient permission, especially when that person ends up profiting off the theft. Grey said that when he has contacted some of these people, they have simply replied with “fair use!” or “copyright not intended”. I have also seen in the description of many YouTube uploads of songs/music videos by bands “I DO NOT OWN THE COPYRIGHT TO ANY OF THIS CONTENT”, as if posting that makes it OK.
When I went to write my blog post about Autism, I had planned to feature several quotations and citations from the book I had just finished reading, and since I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for Temple Grandin, I didn’t want to post all those citations and end up pissing her off that I quoted crucial parts of the book, which would arguably dissuade people from buying it because they already got the most important information. So I tried to describe what she talked about as much as possible and only quote certain parts.
I actually wrote that whole post, and then realized I should probably double check what constitutes “fair use” before hitting publish. I found this article: “What Every Writer Ought to Know about Fair Use and Copyright” by Joel Friedlander.
He describes how fair use works, and lists the 4 criteria that have to be met:
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
He provides 7 examples (some real, some fictional?) to help illustrate how these rules can be applied. One interesting aspect about these criteria is #3, as illustrated here:
Scenario 4: The magazine The Nation printed an excerpt from President Ford’s book on President Nixon. Although the excerpt was only a tiny part of the work, it was almost the only part anyone cared about. (Nixon’s comments when abdicating) Publisher sued.
Result: Court ruled it was not Fair Use. Most interesting was the Court’s analysis of Factor 3: although the amount copied was small, its substantiality was large. The Court was also influenced by the fact that The Nation obtained the manuscript surreptitiously and “scooped” the copyright owner’s intended serialization by several weeks.
I found the article very helpful, I recommend reading it yourself, and at the end of having read the article, I felt safe in publishing mine.
This blog is (at least for now), strictly non-profit, for educational purposes. The book I was citing was more for educational purposes (ie it wasn’t a book on marketing tips or sales strategies). While I did cite several passages, looking back there was definitely a lot more I wanted to quote but just couldn’t (the post was already quite long) and as I said, I tried to explain many of the concepts and ideas in my own words rather than quoting her. And in the end, I not only encouraged readers to buy the book multiple times but I hope that by reading what I wrote and the quotes I supplied, that you would be deftly curious to read it yourself, whether from a library or buying it.
My Autism post has been up for I think about a month or so now, and I have not received any requests to take it down or modify it. I don’t expect Temple is out there looking for blog posts that might be quoting from her book (she’s busy), but after I published it I also googled Autism and since the internet is already saturated with articles about it, lots of other websites/posts are going to get seen before mine. So I think I’m fairly safe.
But it’s definitely something I will be keeping in mind going forward, as I have several more books I want to read and I highly suspect I’ll want to quote from them as well. And if I ever start selling any kind of product or service through this site, that would instantly change the nature of my “fair use”.
So, I hope you learned something from this for yourself to keep in mind with your own writing. This is perhaps part of why when I write articles over on Medium, I tend to try to write as much from personal experience/observation as possible, and simply mention or link to pieces of content that have influenced my point of view. When the writing is 99% personal, there’s pretty much no need to worry about fair use (unless someone steals something I wrote, which to my knowledge has not happened as of yet).