Sunday, April 13, 2008

Power to the People

An interesting take on blogging and "fair use" from today's Detroit Free Press:

QUESTION: I want to put a Free Press article and photo on my blog. Do I need permission?

ANSWER: We are pleased if you put a link in your blog or Web site to an article on However, you cannot use Free Press stories or photos on your site, your blog or in an e-newsletter. Free Press content is protected by copyright law.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office -- online at -- "There is no specific number of words, lines or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission."

Hmm...I wonder if the Freep got permission from the U.S. Copyright Office for the quote?


Culture Snob said...

Well, anything produced by the U.S. Copyright Office, as a government agency, is public property. Hence, from the same Web site: "As a publicly supported U.S. Government institution, the Library generally does not own rights in its collections and what is posted on its Web site. Therefore, it does not charge permission fees for use of such material and generally does not grant or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute material on its Web site."

As for the core issue, the Free Press is protecting its property, and the U.S. Copyright Office is covering its ass from a legal perspective.

Reading between the lines, one can infer that quoting a section (something between nothing and an article's entirety) of a copyrighted Free Press article might be allowed under Fair Use. But there's no bright line on Fair Use, which is why "there is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission."

GCCR said...

Actually the last part about getting permission from the U.S. Copyright Office was my lame attempt at ironic humor (sorry)

However, to be serious I interpreted the Freep's reply as a fairly unambiguous statement to bloggers that they can't post ANY part of a Free Press article WITHOUT permission. Period.

This is perhaps their way of establishing a bright line if at some point they have to go after a blogger who's really abusing the privledge.

It caught my eye, mainly because just about EVERY blog I read has posts that contain segments pulled from other publications. Which, if you take the Freep's position as accurate (which I don't) would mean that all of those sites are not in compliance.

Culture Snob said...


I got the irony, but I thought it would work only if the U.S. Copyright Office weren't a public body. (The subtler irony, which I like, is that you quoted the paper's don't-quote-us article.)

As for the intent of the Free Press response, your reading is correct. They obviously do mean to imply that you're not allowed to use any part of an article or photo.

But that's not what the statement technically says. One should read into the first part of it: "You cannot use [entire] Free Press stories or photos on your site." As for the second part: And using some portion of an article or photo makes you potentially liable under copyright law. Whether you use 10 words or 1,000, we can still sue your ass.

But if you follow some basic concepts of Fair Use, they'd lose if they tried it.

GCCR said...

I got the irony, but I thought it would work only if the U.S. Copyright Office weren't a public body.

Indeed, a weak ending on my part...but it was a sunny spring afternoon here in Michigan and I wanted to go outside. Lest I die like so many other bloggers we've been reading about. :-)

BTW, I'm meeting a good friend of mine, Bill McGraw, for lunch this week. He's a writer for the Freep and I'm going to ask him what he thinks about this issue of "Fair Use". Is it serious, or just the Freep's versoion of the Surgeon General's warning on cigs?

Incidentally, I've been working with McGraw to get "" off the ground. But his darn day job seems to be getting in the way of his good intentions (esp. since the Kwame Kilpatrick stuff broke).