Copyright Infringement on the SDMB

I have seen many, many instances of person refusing to copy an article or even portions of an article, book, web page into a post for fear of copyright infringement.

For those dopers in the US, 17 USC sec. 501 states that those caught violating the exclusive rights set forth in 17 USC sec. 106 will be guilty of copyright infringement. Those rights include:

If these rights are violated, very bad things involving lawyers and lots of money changing hands can happen. There are even instances in which the federal marshalls can be talked into knocking in an infringer’s door. The lesson for today is: don’t infringe copyrights.

But the fact is that not every act of copying is an infringement of a copyright. The Fair Use Doctrine, set forth at 17 USC sec. 107 states that:

What goes on at the SDMB appears to me to fall squarely within the Fair Use Doctrine and therefore outside the scope of infringement. Given this fact, has the SDMB promulgated a copyright policy, and if so, what is it? Further, if the SDMB has not yet promulgated a copyright policy, should it, and if it should, what should it say?

My own personal opinion is that those who refuse to copy articles into an SDMB post are being overly cautious and should just copy the article. I feel that a useful copyright policy would prohibit ALL commercial use of the boards other than by the Chicago Reader itself, as it is primarily commerical intent, among other things that tends to disable the Fair Use Doctrine. I do not see many photographs or other graphics, if any, being posted in messages here and so a prohibition on posting images, video, or audio would not be a hardship. The application of the Fair Use Doctrine isn’t as straightforward for images, video, and audio and could raise issues simple text copying would not. Linking to any and all items, notwithstanding existing prohibitions on linking, would remain A-OK.

Any comments?

cj finn

What is and isn’t covered by the Fair Use Doctrine has been the source of a lot of litigation. Litigation is expensive for both the winners and the losers. A court may eventually rule in your favor, but you still had to go through the big hassle of being sued.

This probably belongs in ATMB, because it’s less a Debate than about the proper operation of the Board.

Quite simply, the members here are asked to use brief excerpts from copyrighted material, if they use any at all, in clear justification of the point being made, that will unquestionably fall under the “Fair Use” exemptions of the Copyright Act.

Presumably use of brief excerpts for the purposes of promotion and/or criticism of a work of art in Café Society would be appropriate under the same status.

And if extensive material from or a whole copyright piece is copied by a given member, the moderators will delete and if possible substitute a link, to shield the Chicago Reader (and the member in question) from having to defend such litigation.

The SDMB does have a quite clear copyright policy – just a little gray on “how much is too much?” but that’s more the fault of “fair use” than of any negligence on the part of the board administration – I suspect that they’re allowing room for variation, so that six paragraphs from a 1,000 page work that are essential to an argument may be permitted where three paragraphs from an eight paragraph article will not.

I had toyed with the idea of putting this thread in a number of different places and decided to put it here in the end.

Being cautious is a good idea when dealing with infringement. I should know as I am an intellectual property attorney and deal with these issues every day.

That being said, the members of this board should stop referring to the quote/article that they aren’t going to copy and paste for copyright reasons. Poly’s example shows a good understanding of the Fair Use Doctrine. In general using three paragraphs of a thousand page document will be OK. However, using three paragraphs from an eight paragraph article is also OK under the Fair Use Doctrine if it is used here on the board for the purposes of criticism, comment or news reporting.

Just wanted to get that off my chest.


To provide further explanation from Section 107,

(bolding added)

Most of us will post an excerpt, however, “amount” and “substantiality of the portion” are somewhat subjective. Reducing the amount that we copy and paste reduces the exposure to someone who believes that our “amount” was too grat or that we provided too substantial a portion in our copied quotation.

Regarding standards on the SDMB, I believe that a search of ATMB on the word copyright will provide some previous discussions regarding “how much” and “too much.” A few recent threads, there, include:

Kevin & Kell 4/16: “Copyright. The legal responsibilities of an ISP.”
Archived newspaper articles, and the SDMB’s Copyright Policy
A question concerning fair usage of board material and copyrights
copyright Chicago Reader 2003

Not everyone agrees, of course, (else we would not be the fractious Teeming Millions), but the general approach encouraged by the administration is caution.

The point is that the SDMB is not required to follow as broad an interpretation of fair use as the court system does. The board is a private concern and can set the standard more restricively if they wish.

Incidentally, I believe the reason graphics were restricted was due to bandwidth not legal issues.

As I said above, I thought about placing this thread in a number of places. The most likely being the Pit. I guess I’ve made a mountain out of a molehill really as what prompted me to post this is the common practice many posters have of stating that they won’t copy an article/link/excerpt because it would be copyright infringement when to me there would be no copyright infringement at all. Kind of a nitpick.

I figured that it was bandwidth that got images banned. Good thing too because figuring out how much of an image you can use under the Fair Use doctrine is difficult.

Carry on.