Fair use and excerpts

As anyone who follows this blog knows, my general format is to include a relevant excerpt from the post I am commenting on but not the entire post itself. I do this for a couple of reasons.

One, I want to provide a proper context for my comments. I know how easy it is to take words out of context. I want to include enough of the quoted material so that readers can then follow why I am commenting and understand the basis for any comment.

Second, I want to include enough in the quote to make readers interested in following the original post  I am quoting – to provide enough so that others can see why the original post is interesting, in itself. Many times people just ignore links in a post, never following through to the original. I want my posts to help drive people to the posts and sites I chose to comment on

The web is all about passing people on to other, interesting sites of content.

That is why, for almost every post I use excerpts, I include 3 links to the original site for the material I quote: one based on the original title; one based on the web site itself; and one indicating there is more at the site.

I feel strongly that the original poster needs to get any traffic from the comments I write. Simply cutting and pasting would not accomplish this and would not be fair to the original post.

However, a final reason – less interesting for my purposes but more important legally – to use excerpts is for copyright reasons. It is not legal to simply copy someone else’s work without permission, unless one only uses an excerpt under Fair Use. But what a Fair Use excerpt really is can only be determined by litigation.

So there is a big grey area when it comes to using excerpts. I’ve stated why I use them – with a conscious effort to drive people to the original sites rather than just stay here.

But how long an appropriate excerpt should be is often a matter of opinion.

A recent post raised the attention of the original site, the Big Picture. I love the Big Picture, which has some of the best writing about the financial world on the web. While I did feel my excerpt was proper Fair Use, I know opinions vary. The original copyright holder asked me to alter it. I did not see any reason in this case to put a line in the sand. So I respected their request and updated my post.

The web is changing all sorts of ideas of copyright and Fair Use. A main purpose of copyright is for those who create new works to be fully recognized for what they have done.  I try very hard to provide opportunities in every excerpt for readers to find the original authors.

Some copyright holders are not as reasonable as others, though. Some do not seem to get the Web. I think the Big Picture does and I plan to be excerpting them again in the future.