Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Copyright - AP takes on bloggers

In journalism there is a concept called "fair use". It's related to copyright. Basically it means, a publisher or an editor can quote from another, usually copyrighted material, in his or her publication to the extent that will be considered fair; or in other words, what is quoted shouldn't amount to deriving commercial or any other type of advantage.

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.



  1. I think that any snippet taken from another source should be given due credit.
    I remember than when I was in school we were told to give the written reference for any article, book, or media used to write our research papers, essays, disertations, and the like.

    just a couple of months ago I actually got quite pissed when I found that someone used a picture I took myselfand posted on my blog and used it in one of their own post without at least linking back to me which I think is pretty rude.

  2. O plenty of plain copying happening on blogs. An instructive post. Hope the copy cats read and mend ways.

  3. I have had more than 14 of my posts copied and one Rediff blogger even made a blog with my posts as the only content. I think Copyright laws are not being implemented and the guilty know they can get away scot free after making a tidy sum. So I don't see a let up in plagiarism in the near future.

  4. Came here after a while and I see you have changed the outlook. Its nice though.
    This post was instructive and enlightening.

  5. I agree with your views Pradeep, but tell me is there any forum where you can approach if you find your conents are being copied and published.

    Is the "Copyright © 2008 | No part of the content or the blog may be reproduced without prior permission." line
    helpful to prevent copying content from your site?

  6. This is an informative and thought provoking article. Thank you for it.

    The different standard writing styles like APA, MLA, Harward stipulate methodology for quotes and works cited. But the responsibility for obtaining the original author's permission rests with the writer of the article/book.

    Some writers change the wording to escape copyright problems. In many researched works such practice may become necessary but the right thing, I feel, is to the original author due credit.

    Regarding Indrani's comment I have this to say: the copyright symbol, I think, indicates 'registered copyright'. That is not done as a rule by many writers. Perhaps the appropriate usage would be 'Copyright reserved'. The moment you write something, you own the copyright to it.

  7. Very instructive post, Pradeep. Though it can be considered a compliment (!) that someone has found one's material worthy of use, the whole thing leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I agree totally with the suggestion that copy/paste should be banned.

  8. @Cyn
    When I was doing my PG in journalism my prof (Dr J V Vilanilam, who went on to become Kerala University vice-chancellor) inculcated in us the importance of citations and he used to say how many people pay scant thought to it. Even for class assignments he used to insist on footnotes and bibliography.

    @Rajesh, Silerine, Manpreet, Swarna
    Thanks for the comments. Indeed bleak prospects. Litigations and the like are painful and long drawn, and not something bloggers can pursue. One way is to shame the copycats... But they are shameless aren't they?

    Thanks a lot for that input.

    Abraham's comment would have partly answered your doubt. I doubt if the warning that you have referred to is legally binding..