Yes, Authors Have Copyright Issues With Quoting Others As Well

from the the-sampling-problem-is-back dept

We were recently writing about how there seems to be a massive double standard when it comes to “sampling” in books vs. music. But that was really only focused on fiction books. When it comes to non-fiction, it appears the story is a bit more complicated. Author Marc Aronson recently took to the pages of the NY Times to complain about how copyright is massively stifling non-fiction works, due to the difficulty of getting permission:

The hope of nonfiction is to connect readers to something outside the book: the past, a discovery, a social issue. To do this, authors need to draw on pre-existing words and images.

Unless we nonfiction writers are lucky and hit a public-domain mother lode, we have to pay for the right to use just about anything — from a single line of a song to any part of a poem; from the vast archives of the world’s art (now managed by gimlet-eyed venture capitalists) to the historical images that serve as profit centers for museums and academic libraries.

The amount we pay depends on where and how the material is used. In fact, the very first question a rights holder asks is “What are you going to do with my baby” Which countries do you plan to sell in? What languages? Over what period of time? How large will the image be in your book?

Much of his concern is how these costs will multiply in an age of ebooks, but it seems like a serious enough issue from the start. Just the fact that authors who are discussing and building on the works of others are being blocked due to copyright is hugely problematic. In this context, it hardly sounds like the new works would act as substitutes for the old works at all — but could actually drive more interest in those original works. It’s difficult to see why or how copyright policy makes sense in these cases.

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Comments on “Yes, Authors Have Copyright Issues With Quoting Others As Well”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I’m looking forward to a future where depictions of the past are dryer than a bland piece of toast. Who needs to get excited about the past anyway? It’s not like we’d be doomed to repeat it.

Without copyright, no one would create anything ever and if that means future generations are locked out of our shared past because they don’t have the money to pay for it, well, that’s too bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Some of the Los Angeles Times newspaper archives have photos blocked in the PDF versions (newspaper articles from 1881-1985 are available in PDF format). Thes are high-resolution scanned images of the original articles. You can’t ‘copy’ the article except to make hard-print copies on a computer printer and there’s no way to click and download individual images.

Nobody’s going to be able to steal anything with a copy and paste command. So why do many of the photos in these news stories contain the following disclaimer?

‘Image blocked due to copyright restrictions. To see the photo, please refer to the microfilm.’ Uhh, I haven’t seen a microfilm reader in at least twenty years. This should be a criminal act, denying Americans the right to their own heritage and history.

Very few AP photos are blocked – it’s usually the photos from local news stories that are blocked. Some of these news articles are forty years old. What purpose is served by this process?

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Do a hyperlink

When you are publishing online (which is where much of publishing is headed), if you aren’t certain you can get permission and you don’t think what you want to do falls within “fair use,” chances are you’ll find online somewhere what you want to cite. You don’t even have to embed it into your own work. Just put a link and your readers can click to see what you are referencing.

There are workarounds that are faster than trying to change copyright laws.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Do a hyperlink

I guess that means you haven’t been following all the issues some “news organizations” have with linking to their information.

I have been following it. But the problem seems to be in how the stories are linked. They are happy if you actually drive traffic to their sites, but not happy if you grab the info and your readers don’t go to the original story.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Do a hyperlink

Yeah, darn that Google News and it grabbing a whole sentence or two of information (or sometimes just the headline, how terrible!) and completely destroying all the newspapers it links to!

Sounds like they WANT Google to do this.

Rupert Murdoch to limit Google and Microsoft’s access to his newspapers: “Mr Murdoch said he did not expect search engines would pay for access to newspapers. ‘We’ll be very happy if they just publish our headline or a sentence or two and that’s followed by a subscription form,’ he said.”

Anonymous Coward says:

There are about 200 solutions that fall far short of wholesale repeal of copyright that would address most of this issue. Of course, you’ll never see any of those mentioned here.

Clarifying fair use would take care of most of the problem. The real issue is that since no publisher has a good handle on what “fair use” means, they just advise their authors to get permission or avoid any use.

Failing that, creating a mechanical license system would also take care of most of the problem. This would simplify getting permission for things, prevent artistes for deciding to charge an exorbitant rate for someone to quote a line of their poetry, and so on.

The way it works for most book publications now is practically a mechanical license anyway, at least when you’re including something that’s managed by a big publisher. But the ones that want some cash usually set a high flat fee (like $50 or something) which adds up quickly.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The real issue is that since no publisher has a good handle on what “fair use” means, they just advise their authors to get permission or avoid any use.

Yes, I went through that drill with a book publisher. I’m pretty sure everything I quoted or paraphrased fell under fair use, but the publisher wanted to make sure we were covered. It took some extra paperwork on my part to send out permissions letters to all my sources. But virtually everyone allowed me to use their cited material for free. I gave proper credit in all cases. In the few situations where there was a fee, I just didn’t use that material.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Whatwhatwhat? No, I’m sorry, your story is not possible. Copyright policy is so out of whack that you must have been STIFLED and BLOCKED from expressing yourself! Your free-speech rights must have been absolutely trampled! How can you say that most people are reasonable and decent when it comes to copyright!? Are you mad!?

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s quite common for institutions — museums, archives, and libraries — to require permission (and a fee) for commercial use (ie in an academic non-fiction book) of materials they own, whether or not (a) that ownership includes ownership of the copyright or (b) the material is old enough that any copyrights have expired.

Mr Big Content says:

Announcing: Nanopayments

One of the lesser-known features of Apple’s new iPad is eye-tracking technology. This, combined with the new, improved DRM system, gives you this amazing concept called “Pay-As-You-Read™”.

The idea is that you can download e-books for free. But as your eyes scan over the page, you only pay for the parts that you read. Couldn’t finish a book? End up paying less. Go over a line more than once, and appropriate extra payment is made. After all, why shouldn’t the content owners be paid in direct proportion to the amount of enjoyment you get out of the book?

At one stroke, this also solves the problem of written works quoting other written works. There is now no need to charge extra for this; instead, as the reader reads the quoted lines, the payment for that section goes directly to the appropriate rightsholders.

Welcome to a glorious new era of monetized mashups!

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m the one who posted about the LA Times archives. I should have added:

I understand why I can’t use any photos or quote verbatim from a news source without proper credit from the source. My complaint is that the copyright policy blocks *everyone* from seeing the images. This includes the twelve-year-old doing research for a school assignment to the granny who was featured in the original news story forty years ago, and she just wanted to print out a copy for herself – those people can’t see the images either, without, like I said, tracking down a microfiche roll of the original article. If microfiche and microfilm archives were still easily obtained, maybe you’d have a valid argument for blocking the photos in the PDF versions of the news stories. WHO HAS A FUCKING MICROFILM MACHINE AND ARCHIVES? I work for a research firm and the boss tossed out the microfilm readers while I was still riding a Barbie Big Wheel and playing with my Ez-Bake oven.

Apparently in the times of microfiche archiving, nobody was worried about copyright infringement fifty years into the future. Not all photos are blocked in the LA Times PDF archives, but I don’t think any of them should be blocked, especially when the user is paying for access to the information – this is not a free archive.

Civilians pay $2-5 per article downloaded. The company I work for provides a family subscription free to all employees – we’ve got access to electronic versions of hundreds of newspapers. The LA Times and the NY Times are the only papers that archive anything into PDF format. The NY Times doesn’t block their photos – at least I’ve never stumbled onto a blocked photo so far.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not all photos are blocked in the LA Times PDF archives, but I don’t think any of them should be blocked, especially when the user is paying for access to the information – this is not a free archive.

My guess that it will be faster to work out an arrangement with the LA Times than to change the copyright laws.

My point in responding to all of this is to offer some workaround ideas. People have been dealing with copyright, licensing, and fair use issues for decades. Most writers and scholars find ways to deal with it.

If all of you are planning on waiting until copyright laws change, you’ll have a long wait.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

What sends me into these newspaper archives on my days off is background for a historical novel I’m writing. Since I’m not fictionalizing any real-life events, I’m not anticipating a need for permission to quote any sources. My irritation is with the heavy-handedness of the arcane copyright laws as it blocks people like my own children from fully engaging themselves in historical events, since the original photos are blacked out due to potential copyright infringement issues.

A simple description. Our youngest child, now a year old, was born blind. My older son often creates school projects and reports about things like the first-ever Seeing-Eye dogs and traffic lights that chirp. (He’s greatly disappointed because we won’t be getting a Seeing-Eye dog for the baby.) He finds and downloads the PDF files he wants to see from these newspaper archives, and he’s frustrated whenever a photo is blocked. It doesn’t make sense to him any more than it makes sense to me. Why should a picture of a long-dead blind guy and his guide dog be blocked? Who is this copyright holder, and why does he have any legal rights to claim a copyright stranglehold forty years after the photo was taken and published in a major newspaper? I’d hate to relive D-Day or the flag-raising on Iwo Jima in a modern world filled with arrogant, entitled, self-important content creators who scream copyright infringement and whine about their rights.

If we were writing a book of our own, and we wanted to reprint old newspaper photos, I get the copyright thing, even if the system is archaic and meaningless. The photo rights still belong to the guy who took the picture. However, my son just wants to see the original newspaper article. He’s not a seven-year-old e-book pirate scheming to deprive the original photographer of his legal rights.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Why should a picture of a long-dead blind guy and his guide dog be blocked? Who is this copyright holder, and why does he have any legal rights to claim a copyright stranglehold forty years after the photo was taken and published in a major newspaper?

I’m curious about this and would like to do some more research. I’m wondering if it is a copyright issue, or a matter of interpretation of copyright on the part of this particular paper, or is something they do as a matter of policy, etc.

I just did a Google search and couldn’t come up with anything other than a way to unblock photos that have been blocked.

Do you, by chance, have the wording that explains why the photos are blocked? Or even a link to the archives so maybe I can play around with it a bit?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

‘Blocked due to copyright. See full page image or microfilm.’

Again, this is specifically LA Times PDF versions of their newspaper files. I access them via Proquest. The first one I clicked on that I have saved with an image blocked was titled ‘7-Year-Old Tests the Legal System.’ ERIC MALNIC Los Angeles Times (1886-Current File); Jun 2, 1982; ProQuest Historical Newspapers Los Angeles Times (1881 – 1985).

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Have you tried this?

Los Angeles Times Joins Proquest Historical Newspapers (Elliot Kanter, UCSD) : California Digital Library: “… later decades of the historical newspapers also include material under copyright. In such cases, individual articles, photographs or other works may not be displayed separately. But they will still be viewable as part of the full page image, which will always be displayed. It is then possible to mark the article with the Acrobat graphics selection tool, and printed separately.”

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