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.