Does City Pages believe in Fair Use?

First, let me stipulate: City Pages made a great hire when they selected Emily Kaiser to lead their Blotter blog. She’s a snappy writer, good reporter (check out this Coleman-Franken ethics interview) and stiff competition for this MinnPost aggregator.

But gosh, does CP still believe in the doctrine of Fair Use?

This morning, Blotter features a rundown of overnight developments in the Coleman DonorGate case. The item contains a link to a story in the D.C. website Politico — cool — followed by 15 of the story’s 16 paragraphs.

That’s not a boildown, that’s not an excerpt, that’s … well, let’s just call it uncool. This follows an item last week that reprinted the first nine paragraphs of a 17-graf Nation article.

The implicit tradeoff we story-cullers make is that we repurpose your copy but leave the reader interested enough to send you some life-sustaining hits. Overly long excerpts violate that spirit, if not copyright law.

One can only imagine CP’s outrage if someone reprinted 94 percent of their latest hot story, instead of an intriguing summary and link.

Look, I’m happy when Blotter links to me (though I may not be happy next time!) and they’ve done it responsibly. The section has become more of a necessary read since Kaiser was hired. But a little lighter fingertip on the cut-and-paste won’t destroy that, and it will increase the good karma.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 10/31/2008 - 11:09 am.

    Isn’t there a general guideline, which I believe is two sentences or 100 words max? I don’t know where I heard that (and I may have made it up) but it is a reasonable limit.

    I think the online world and Citizen Journalism generally needs ethical standards that go all the way down to specifics in cases like this. That may sound a bit centralized, but if they’re very reasonable I’m sure they’ll catch on. Now, how do we get them written?

    Excellent topic, very important.

  2. Submitted by David Brauer on 10/31/2008 - 11:15 am.

    Erik – it’s useful to click the “Fair Use” link in the story. From talking to lawyers, it’s an amorphous standard – a bit like the famous legal quote about knowing obscenity when you see it – and goes to the harm caused the victim, which in the case of Politico or the Nation may not be much.

    Still, it’s wise to wear sandpaper underwear on this slippery slop, so if nothing else, this is a cautionary tale.

  3. Submitted by Chris Johnson on 10/31/2008 - 11:24 am.

    Having never been a professional journalist, I have no idea what those guidelines might be.

    I’ve thought if one uses a small fraction of the whole, it’s fair use. A 100 word limit could be constraining; I’ve seen single sentences which exceed that number! More than 2 sentences or 100 words might be necessary sometimes to provide a clear picture of the original writer’s intent.

    It’s clearly a grey area which bears investigation and discussion.

  4. Submitted by Jeff Achen on 11/03/2008 - 08:44 am.

    David, I share your concerns. Kaiser’s excerpt seems to go a little too far. The unspoken rule is: if readers want to read what Politico has to say, they follow the link.

    Though many of us (journalists) are still grappling with the nuances of the web, we know plagiarism when we see it. Or as you have suggested, we know it when it happens to us.

    Link journalism and blogging are still only beginning to open up a whole new world to reporters. But those powers can be used for good or for evil. We’d be smart to remember what plagerism is, how to recognize and avoid it, and why it’s toxic to our profession.

    Moreover, I hope that writers of all creeds–whether they be bloggers, journalists, whoever–remember the golden rule: do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

  5. Submitted by David Brauer on 11/03/2008 - 09:04 am.

    Jeff –

    Just to be clear, I am not accusing City Pages of plagiarism. All the overlong excerpts were properly attributed, and never presented as City Pages’ own work.

    What I do think they risk is a copyright violation – that’s what Fair Use is about.

    Plagiarism is such a journalistic death sentence it shouldn’t be throw out unless absolutely justified, and it’s not in this case.

    Thanks tons for reading and commenting, though. You’re very right about the journalistic Golden Rule.

Leave a Reply