Bloggers: How Much Excerpting Is Fair Use?

    March 19, 2009
    Chris Crum

Fair use is back in the news courtesy of a New York Times article on publishers being unhappy with the use of excerpts of their content. The main focal point of the article is Henry Blodget of Silicon Alley Insider, who recently quoted a WSJ columnist.

Henry Blodget of Silicon Alley InsiderIt did not get to the point where Blodget was hassled over it. He used his own judgment and trimmed the excerpt down himself after using one that was five paragraphs long. "No, DJ did not contact us," Blodget tells WebProNews. "I reread the post a few minutes after posting and decided to trim it."

So there’s not exactly an issue there, but the concept remains a hot issue nonetheless. We are of course reminded of when Gatehouse Media recently filed a suit against the NYT Company itself when published headlines and ledes from one of Gatehouse’s sites (it was ultimately settled out of court). And let’s not forget the AP’s legacy of content stinginess.

Sidenote: More on the NYT Gatehouse case in the following exclusive discussion:

Some have called the practice of quoting other sources and using said quotes on pages that contain advertisements, scraping. However, this is a far cry from what real scraper sites do in stealing entire articles, often with no credit or links to the original given.

No, Blodget and the Huffington Post (also cited in the NYT article), and many others including the NYT itself, WebProNews, and probably the majority of blogs and online publications you read all practice the quoting of other sources with links and proper attribution.

iEntry CEO and WebProNews Publisher Rich OrdThis argument is almost as old as the Web itself. iEntry CEO and WebProNews publisher Rich Ord founded the Internet’s first news aggregation site back in 1996 and recalls the same issues then as now. Rich says, "I was contacted by nearly every major news site when I launched NewsLinx including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and was asked with an aggresive tone if I had permission to link to their stories. I always answered that I did not and that I would remove the links if they liked. They universally told me to keep linking. Even then they realized the value of the exposure outweighed their old style control over what I considered fair use of their content."

The real beef (at least currently) stems from the doom and gloom attitude about the state of the online advertising industry, and the newspaper industry itself. Publishers are afraid of losing readers (aka ad viewers) to the blogs and sites that are quoting their content.

Nevermind the fact that as Brian Stelter at the NYT notes, these blogs/sites are actually opening up the original sources to other readers who would not have gotten to the them in the first place had they not followed a link from the blog/site doing the quoting.

The "original sources" are more concerned about those readers of secondary sources that don’t click through to their sites. Another point I have often seen made in this discussion is that in the end, even the most original sources had to get their information from somewhere.

The most valuable articles are ones that bring together related points, and often these points have been made by others first. In the news industry, stories break from all kinds of different sources, and in the interest of keeping readers informed, other publications do not want to ignore the news. It seems only logical and courteous to give credit where credit is due via a quote and a link.

Blogging is not going away. In fact it will likely continue to grow. If publishers take action to eliminate the excerpting, it will likely just result in more uncredited regurgitation. A lot of trust in content will probably be lost as a result of a lack of accreditation. To me it seems this would only hurt the industry as a whole.

>>> How Much Excerpting Is Fair Use?

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