My Own Fair Use Policy

In the recent fracas of the Associated Press versus bloggers, I noted what I felt was a reasonable level for fair use regarding quoting from news stories (basically: no more than three graphs). So the question now becomes: What do I feel qualifies as fair use while quoting from me, and anything I post on my blog?

Well, basically, I think the same level applies. If you’re quoting from Whatever, three paragraphs seems like a perfectly reasonable amount to consider as fair use. And a link back would be appreciated. If the graphs are really short (or I’m posting a numbered list, or whatever) then adjust accordingly. But generally, if you’ve posted more than a third of the entire entry, you’re missing the point of “excerpting.”

If you post more than three paragraphs of something I wrote, will I hunt you down and kill you, or at least slap a DMCA notice on your sorry ass? Unlikely. I’m aware of lots of folks who have cut and pasted entire Whatever entries onto their own blogs, mostly on the rationale that “this is too good to just quote from,” which is flattering, even if I don’t necessarily agree. Most of these folks also correctly attribute and link back to the original entry. For non-commercial, personal use, that’s fine.

Where I do get my back up is in the following circumstances:

1. A post is cut-and-pasted without attribution, implying that the poster wrote it;

2. Something of mine is used, with or without attribution, on a commercial site (i.e., the people who run it somehow expect to make money from the site, and are using my material to drive traffic).

That said, in both cases, this sort of thing happens only very rarely, and in both cases, I don’t usually have to do anything about it, because, strangely, it appears that I and my words are not unknown on Teh Intarweebs, and others will do the “hey, wait a minute…” thing for me. Thanks, guys.

By and large, if you’re worried that the amount you’re posting on your blog is too much, or that you’re infringing on my copyright, or that I’ll get angry with you and send legions of minions to your door, just send me an e-mail and ask. Generally there’s not going to be a problem.

(If you’re a commercial entity, ask about reprint fees. Yes, I have sold Whatever entries as reprints. Lots of times.)

What about pictures that I post here? Sure, you can use ’em, full-size, for your own personal, non-commercial use, as long as you attribute and link back. And, actually, since I have three terabytes of bandwidth a month (or host them on Flickr), feel free to “hotlink” them. That said, I reserve the right to tell you to stop if you’re doing something with the photos I don’t like. That’s what copyright generally allows me to do.

(Indeed, this is why I don’t use Creative Commons licensing generally. Fact is I don’t generally mind when people use stuff of mine for their own personal amusement, but occasionally I do, and I don’t want to have some existing licensing agreement in the way of me telling some dude to knock that crap off. Call me mercurial. Of course, even in those cases, fair use applies.)

In any event, if you go with the “three graphs” rule of thumb, you’ll rarely do wrong by me, in terms of fair use. That’s pretty simple.

(For more details about fair use of the uninitiated, this article at Wikipedia is actually mostly helpful)

By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

20 replies on “My Own Fair Use Policy”

*I* copy good/interesting stuff into my LJ because I know that links go bad, especially newspaper links. But I always make them private, “for my eyes only” ’cause I know I shouldn’t do that.

I consider it kind of like cutting stuff out of a newspaper and filing it. You don’t want to see my bulging file cabinet of newspaper clippings.

I don’t think I’ve done that with your stuff (yet) because you seem to be reliable (i.e. you’ll be around a while) and I think google would catch whatever you’ve said.

My first internet experience with copyright was catalyzed by a site in Germany that purposefully used meta tags to steal my web presence. It was an adversarial interchange during which I sent a large bill for usage. I also informed other sources, from whence this site had purloined art, that work was being appropriated without attribution (or permission). Fortunately said offender cleaned up his site and removed or properly attributed artwork without my having to hire a lawyer. Became very glad I’m not Coca Cola needing to support a battalion of lawyers to defend the brand.

In this new age, I’ve become more casual about copyright. Mostly as it applies to getting the word out and feeling flattered that anyone would find what I create worthy of theft or publication. Also because there’s no way in this big world that I can track down every possible infringement.

I’m taking a harder line on this, and will also note that fair-use is also a matter of intent. On occasion, I’ve seen blog entries along the lines of “wow, look what I found” followed by several paragraphs of stuff that’s a cut-and-paste of someone else’s content. For myself, that’s the sign of someone who’s too lazy or slipshod to think about what they’re reading and re-form it into their own words.

I like the “three paragraph” rule you have here. However, what I attempt to do whenever I quote substantially from someone else’s work (with attribution, of course), is to dignify it with some substantial analysis and commentary. I figure that the purpose for blogging is to actually create something.

AP’s new “policy” doesn’t affect me terribly, because I’m typically raking through more obscure sources for my material. At the same time, AP’s position on this matter is crap and I look forward to the day when someone sues the bejeezus out of them.

I ran into a similar situation just a couple of days ago. I posted a couple of pictures that had been sent to me. Both had been making the rounds and lost attribution somewhere along the line. I thought they were both pretty awesome and I wanted to share. The first one clearly said I didn’t know who had created it but I’d gladly acknowledge authorship to whoever claimed it. The second was a little less clear but the context of the photo and it’s title clearly implied that I was piling on to the previous post.

Anyway, last night I got a comment from the creator of “Baconhenge” saying she was glad I liked it (no demand or request for attribution.) I promptly posted a link to her original post.

I’m pretty sure everyone’s happy with the outcome.

I guess I should add I have vision problems, so rather than setting two dozen blogs to be readable, I set just my feed reader, but that limits me to reading only blogs that share full posts in their feeds.

Nathan @5: It’s so nice when an attempt at doing the right thing works out!

I’ve had content from my site scraped and used as googlebait for sites pushing malware. I get all over the hosting providers until the stuff is down.

John, I like your fair use policy. I think it’s, well, fair. I’m an old journalist (emphasis on old) and three grafs from a blog post is plenty, IMO. I personally prefer to use something short, then link back to the source and give them a little traffic in return for posting something so quotable. But that’s just me.


I get full articles with Google Reader and this has been consistent since i resubscribed after his move to Word Press, so the problem is probably on your end.

On Fair Use:

Fair use, in practice, protects teachers who decide to present a copyrighted work to their class without permission. This is a classic example which flies miles above the four factors considered in the 1976 Copyright Act. Copyright requests used to take a very long time, but with electronic communication it is very easy for individuals to ask copyright holders for permission (and for copyright holders to answer). That said, fair use is a set of rules to adjudicate use of a copyrighted work without permission of the copyright holder. Although giving rules for “My Own Fair Use Policy” tightens the Scalzi case in court, people can still use John Scalzi’s work without his permission. They just have to decide whether it’s worth it to risk a day in court and whether their usage would be considered “fair”.

Given that Scalzi is a professional writer, and he sells his posts, it is a very easy argument to say any usage of Whatever has a negative effect on potential market value. So unless you are a nonprofit educational institute, you’re probably going to lose in court.

Brilliant! A copyright policy full of Common Sense! Dude, can we draft you for President? It seems our last remaining viable candidate has just thrown himself under the bus…

As for the AP? I never bothered quoting them anyway, they’re not a reliable source. Reuters, the BBC, even this crazy blogger I know that insists on posting brain-breaking quotes before I’ve had my breakfast get cred status before AP. Now I have even more reason to give’m the snub.

You’ve just beautifully summed up my own copyright policy for Cocktail Party Physics. Quoting a few paragraphs with a link back? No problem, even if you’re a “commercial” site. But reproducing an entire post to drive traffic to your site (and, by extension, away from mine)? Not cool! Even if you link back. Because why visit my site at all if someone can get the entire content on yours? Do that, and you are stealing, plain and simple, even though I make no money whatsoever from my blog. That’s not the point.

I’m sympathetic to Internet entrepreneurs who want to start up commercial sites, don’t have a lot of money, and are struggling to find content — just not to the point where I think they have a right to commandeer my original material. Personally, when I need new content, I write some. Why not do the same?

That said, AP’s stance is ridiculous. :)

I agree and think John’s common sense approach from a producer’s side is common sensical. From the user’s side:

If you are a commercial entity and can afford the fee – pay it
If you can’t afford the fee, don’t use it

If its not your original content – attribute
If its just something neat you found – summarize and link

If you are going to quote more than three paragraphs, you better be writing a treatise and quoting other sources.

If you are doing more than summarizing and linking, you should be adding some content yourself

If you can’t do any of the above, shut up.

Hmm. Usually when I think you’re quoteworthy, it’s the entire entry that needs quoted. Therefore, I slap up a link and direct everyone to suck up your bandwidth reading it. ;) I think that’s only fair. I like posting links more than I like copying and pasting, honestly. It lets my readers explore that other person’s site and see why I think they’re so cool as to be quoted. Free Internet and whatnot.

My least favorite recent blog-theft is here:

They just stuck an iframe into a forum post that points to my site. I don’t know how egregious this is, but it’s certainly confusing. If I were running ads, they’d still show up, and a frame pointer isn’t all that different from a direct link, so I don’t know how to feel about this.

I wonder if I should put one of those “escape from frames” javascripts on my site to kill stuff like this.

(Indeed, this is why I don’t use Creative Commons licensing generally. Fact is I don’t generally mind when people use stuff of mine for their own personal amusement, but occasionally I do, and I don’t want to have some existing licensing agreement in the way of me telling some dude to knock that crap off.

Um, John, what your entire post described was Creative Commons Liscense. An Attribution, non-commercial, share alike liscence to be precise.

The only difference is you put slight restrictions on the share alike part of the deal…

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