As far as I know, there is no fixed number of words one can safely copy from another person's work, even by giving credit, so that it wouldn't amount to unfair use. For electronic media too I don't think there is rule that says a clipping shouldn't exceed so many minutes. Please correct me, if I am wrong.
Some five to six years back, when blogs exploded on to the mass communication scene, this was a major topic of discussion. In fact, earliest blogs themselves had only weblinks to interesting articles. But as more and more people got on to the blog bandwagon, many people began to blindly copy-paste entire articles from copyrighted, well-known publications. Still you will find many anonymous bloggers who merely copy-paste. The only saving grace is many do give due credit.
In fact, I too initially used to do that when I had to refer to a particular article. For the benefit of my readers I had, on a few occasions, copy-pasted the entire article, in addition to giving the weblink. But later, I realised that I could probably be putting into public domain an article that is not otherwise freely available on the web. I stopped it, and now I quote only a para, and then give a link to the original article. There are many magazines like India Today and The Economist which have premium content that is available only to subscribers. So, it would definitely be an infringement of law if some subscriber were to copy-paste that material for the whole world to read free of cost. (Link to my blog post on this is given below)
There are two views here: one which says a limit is essential otherwise it makes a mockery of the copyright principle itself. The other view is that freedom to copy-paste actually only gives publicity to the original article, so there should logically be no objection to someone giving free publicity.
The Media and Advertising section of yesterday's New York Times carried story that has renewed the debate. The story talks of the Associated Press news agency (which is widely subscribed to by the media in India too) issuing a notice to the Drudge Report asking it to remove seven items that quoted from AP articles. Following strong reactions, AP has had second thoughts and is reconsidering its actions. But apparently, AP is considering to formulate guidelines on how much of its articles and broadcasts can be safely copied by bloggers and other websites.
There is quite a lot of grey area here. A cap on the number words or duration in terms of minutes is definitely a good idea. But that won't solve the entire problem, since ideas aren't easily quantifiable. Sometimes 200 words may not do as much damage as 20 words. This is what I feel:
-- Some amount of freedom should be given to quote, provided due and full credit is given.
-- There is should be definitely a complete ban on copy-pasting (whatever be the extent) without giving credit.
-- As long as the quoted material is only meant to substantiate or add value to the article, there should not be a problem.
-- But if the quoted material itself is being projected as an article itself then it is unfair.
- How Much of Someone Else's Work May I Use Without Asking Permission?: The Fair Use Doctrine, Part I, Publishing Law Centre, Denver.
- Fair Use: Interpretations and Guidelines - The Fair Use Doctrine Part II, Publishing Law Centre, Denver.
- Copy-pasting on blogs, Time and Tide, August 4, 2005
- Fair Use and Blogging, New Media Journalism, Seton Hill University
- The Associated Press to Set Guidelines for Using Its Articles in Blogs, The New York Times, June 16, 2008
- Cost of excerpting the AP, PC World, June 17, 2008