An evergreen topic in the coverage of new media is the fuzzy line the link economy draws between fair use and author entitlement when it comes to the question of copyright. Where do an author’s privileges over his or her work begin? Where do they end? When does quoting from someone else’s article or column or post stop being a compliment…and start being an infringement?
In today’s Times, Brian Stelter explores those (digital) age-old questions anew…using as his lede example Silicon Alley Insider’s liberal quotation from a recent edition of Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column. To quote liberally from Stelter:
When the popular New York business blog Silicon Alley Insider quoted a quarter of Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column in mid-February, the editor added a caveat at the end: “We thank Dow Jones in advance for allowing us to bring it to you.”
The editor added “in advance” because Dow Jones, the publisher of The Journal, had not given the blog permission to use the column. The excerpt was published with the assumption that it would be permitted under the “fair use” statute of copyright law.
Generally, the excerpts have been considered legal, and for years they have been welcomed by major media companies, which were happy to receive links and pass-along traffic from the swarm of Web sites that regurgitate their news and information.
But some media executives are growing concerned that the increasingly popular curators of the Web that are taking large pieces of the original work — a practice sometimes called scraping — are shaving away potential readers and profiting from the content.
With the Web’s advertising engine stalling just as newspapers are under pressure, some publishers are second-guessing their liberal attitude toward free content.
Well. Those publishers do not include, apparently, Alley Insider Editor-in-Chief Henry Blodget—who responded to Stelter’s article this morning by publishing, in full, the blog’s Excerpting Policy. (Yes, in caps.) The policy takes the give-and-take of the Web and…codifies it.
Our Current Policy
Importantly, at The Business Insider, we don’t just want to do what’s “fair.” We want to do what’s right. Specifically, we want other sites and authors to be happy we excerpted and linked to their stuff.
With that in mind, here is our current policy:
We excerpt others the way we hope others will excerpt us.
What does that mean? It means that if you think our stuff is worth bringing to your readers’ attention, we are honored and grateful. Please excerpt it as liberally as you want. In return, please just give us clear credit, links back, and an incentive for interested readers to visit our site. (Not all readers—some.)
To be clear: As long as you give us credit and links, we are not particularly concerned with the length of the excerpt. Frankly, we’d rather have your readers read our words than your summary of our words, and we see no reason why you should waste your time re-writing something that we’ve already tried to say clearly. (If we’ve garbled it, by all means…) If you occasionally feel you need to run our whole post to make the point, go ahead and run it. Just consider adding a “Related” link to another of our stories so some of your readers might come and check us out.
One important exception to the above is publishers who habitually run our entire posts with no additional commentary or links back—or, worse, just simply publish our entire RSS feed. We’re not cool with that, so stop.
Excerpting standards are still evolving, so fairness is still very much in the eye of the beholder. If you think we have excerpted too much of your stuff or have been stingy with links or credit, tell us, and we’ll change it immediately.
From a legal perspective—or any other perspective that believes in the development of, and adherence to, normative approaches to regulating behavior—SAI’s excerpting policy is eminently unsatisfying. (“In the eye of the beholder”? “We excerpt others the way we hope others will excerpt us”? Someone get Potter Stewart!) But, really, the SAI policy makes sense: it assumes a give-and-take relationship between not just authors and readers, but between authors and authors. It assumes evolution rather than finality in individual pieces of journalism. It assumes that authors prefer the aggregate to the atomized. When it comes to the Web, what could be more appropriate?