How Confusion & Lack Of Clarity In Copyright Law Make Reviewing Poems Difficult

from the can't-quote-this dept

techinabox alerts us to a short NY Times piece by David Orr, in which he notes yet another problem with copyright law, in that publishers are afraid to publish reviews of poems that actually dare to quote the poem, because it might be considered copyright infringement. At issue is that it’s not clear what would be considered fair use in quoting a poem — especially a short one. There are different theories about what’s okay, but those theories don’t seem to fit well with certain poems. Orr gives an example of a one line poem, and notes that quoting just 5% (a standard some suggest) would mean quoting 2 letters. As Orr notes the whole thing is an “incomprehensible system,” and most publishers won’t touch anything that might be interpreted as infringing, because they just don’t want the headache of a legal battle.

Of course, quoting for the purpose of reviews should be fair use. The US Copyright Office itself uses:

“quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment;”

as an example of what qualifies for fair use. But, tragically, the “excerpts” part of that standard is unfortunately vague, and it limits what people can do.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “How Confusion & Lack Of Clarity In Copyright Law Make Reviewing Poems Difficult”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Every joint, website or web-platform should just outright forbid standard copyright material that don’t use a liberal license to be shown, every single one of those places should just force people to use CC Commons just to cover their asses from future litigation threats.

Did people noticed that in some countries Youtube now has a license feature that lets you search for CC Common works?

Anonymous Coward says:

This also points to the need of a central database of sorts to say who owns what and what is copyrighted and not.

That central database should be paid for by copyright owners that should have to renew their copyrights every 10 years to get full protections of the law. The price of that should be based on a fixed minimum and a dynamic price based on earnings and whichever is higher should be charged.

Anonymous Coward says:

Is copying a game for political satire criminal or should be protected as political speech?

Could NinjaVideos use the same defense, I don’t know but would be interesting to see where that leads, it surely will open up a very interesting debate since politicians will need to balanced their freedoms against copyright law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Explosion of networks coming soon to a city near you.

Entertainment industry screams like a girl and pull its hairs out after discovering that the new gatekeepers are Google and Apple.

ROI for old telcos and entertaiment industry disapears, while Google launches Google Pictures LLC.

Anonymous Coward says:

Would a form signed by the client saying that he owns the copyright suffice to dispel any doubts that the printing establishment did everything it could to fallow the law?

Of course copytards would never agree with that, but what the law says in America?

If copytards really want everybody to enforce their laughable laws they will need to give people some tools to do so, is there a place where people can do a search to find out if some material is infringing or not?

Establishments now need to consider everything copyrighted and not print anything how much money is not circulating in the economy because of that, and according to a few very dishonest people that is enough to claim irreparable harm to the whole of the economy like the numbers from the MPAA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Poets Are Free To Fix This

Poets could simply make themselves available to reviewers and provide permission (in writing, natch) for any quotations. Poets who decline to do so, get to suffer continued obscurity. Alas, this policy still leaves academic reviewers, who wish to be comprehensive, in difficulty. There exist talented poets who are unable to give permission due to them being dead. How many poets are gong to mention giving permission to reviewers in their will?

Nicholas Alexander (profile) says:

Reviews are generally welcome

As a person who writes an excessive number of poems which I generally publish for free, I appreciate genuine reactions.

Now if I published a book of poems, I would consider it perfectly fine for one poem to be quoted in full as a fair use in a review, or a few lines of up to three works. Any less than that, and there is no context. Any more, well they are republishing my works and I would expect payment for it. But I would rather be reviewed than ignored.

It is a bit like those song lyric websites – they are effectively republishing copyright works but it generally benefits the author.

Compare this with a film review that tells the plot of the film – now that is a very significant violation.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t think there is anything wrong with the law as it stands. It allows plenty of leeway, while still requiring both sides to use their brains a little.

Would you prefer a hard and fast 1% rule Mike?

Should we adjust the overall, pretty much functional laws in order to accommodate a very small percentage of all cases where people can’t manage to understand the law?

I think the answer is always the same: If you cannot be sure what you are doing is legal, just don’t do it. Call the rights holder, and ask permission. Don’t just assume.

There. You don’t have to fix the law, you just have to fix your attitude.

Zot-Sindi says:

Re: Re:

you just have to fix your attitude.

ask permission

hmm… okay! let’s start

in order to troll this website you must ask for permission from the admin, which i assume is mike

oops! what’s that? you didn’t ask him if you could troll this article? well, i hope you’re happy, freetard, you’ve just infringed on the trollright of this site

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Forcing it on you? You’re not forced to comment – you choose to. Just like somebody who chooses to embed a video they find on YouTube. Before you commented – or for that matter, before you read anything on the site – did you check to make sure Techdirt isn’t full of infringing material? Because if it is, then you’re liable. So are you sure? Did you check?

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

5% excerpt from an Ogden Nash poem:


Actually it’s slightly lower than 5% since 64 isn’t evenly divisible. After all, I wouldn’t want to rob Mr. Nash of his duly owed wages by quoting 4 characters.

Oh wait… he’s been dead for 40 years. Still, present copyright laws will encourage him to continue to produce for at least another 30 years. Meantime, we’re not allowed to quote him, except for fair-use excerpts.

I’m sure you can see the man’s cleverness and wit from this excerpt. Enjoy!

P.S. Here’s an excerpt from another Ogden Nash poem:


Sorry, 5% of that one is less than one character. Let’s see who can quote the entire poem first!

kamikyo says:

There's an opportunity in there...

I wonder how long it would take to publish a series of one line poems containing every grammatically correct and understandable sentence that could be used?

Or better yet, just a list of the most commonly used sentences about, say, I don’t know…copyright protection? Then publish that collection as a volume of poetry, and send out cease & desist letters to anyone who dares publish and infringe on one of your works.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...