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Brian Alt

"Fair Use" and The Copyright Debate
By Brian Alt

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In response to my recent article on always asking permission before reprinting an article by another publishers, an Ezine-Tips reader wrote:

Hi Brian,

Many, many, many years ago I went to college. For my sins I majored in Philosophy. We spent our time doing written projects that usually were posed as questions. You know, questions like "Why do apples fall down and not up?" that were useless to Man and Beast.

In order to argue our earth-shattering conclusions we'd consider the answers given to date by other irrelevant scholars. Again, you get the idea: "Einstein said, 'It's, like, man, gravity'." Then we'd note where we'd read what Mr. Einstein wrote. We'd give the name of the book, date of publication, publisher's name, page number on which we'd taken the quote from. Not one of us emailed Albert and asked him. Get the message? I'm fully in support of privacy, respecting copyright, and what is necessary to protect intellectual property, but, PLEASE, let's not get neurotic to the extent of stopping the free flow of ideas and discourse.

Pete Smith, editor of dotcommarketing.
To subscribe,

Pete, your comments are appreciated, especially from a guy who himself studied philosophy in college and wrote his fair share of papers on not-so-important topics.

However, there's a big distinction to be made between quoting or citing works and reprinting entire articles. The former practice -- including quotations from books, papers, articles, and so on and citing your source -- is protected by a little facet of copyright law called "fair use." Fair use allows you to quote sections of a work for the purposes of criticism, comment, parody, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. In your words, to protect the "free flow of ideas and discourse."

Hence your ability to quote Einstein without having to email him. This differs, however, from reprinting an entire article, paper, or book by our big-haired friend. In order to do that legally, you would have to contact the publisher of the work to ask permission.

In other words, at the risk of sounding "neurotic," I stand by my position in the previous article: If you want to keep yourself out of potential legal trouble, get permission before reprinting articles written by other ezine publishers, even if you do give them credit. It only takes a few minutes to ask, and it's a courtesy we should extend to each other as responsible publishers.

And again, just for clarity's sake, I'm not a lawyer and don't play one on television.)

Ezine-Tips for February 16, 2001

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