Since its advent, the Internet has blurred the lines between copyrighted and free content. Publishers are frustrated with the seeming inability to keep material under control, and commentators are increasingly careful about sourcing material in order to stay on the right side of copyright and plagiarism cases.
One such case earlier this week ruled that reposting an article in its entirety, even without the owner's authority, was fair use of the work. In this particular instance, Righthaven, a company specializing in copyright litigation, sued Wayne Hoehn, a user of the site medjacksports.com, for posting an article to prompt discussion. Righthaven argued that posting the article reduced the number of hits the Review-Journal site would have received.
After citing the fair use clause as he ruled in favor of Hoehn, the judge explained that he found the posting to be for non-commercial purposes. He added that Righthaven did not have enough of a stake in the dispute to entitle it to bring the case to court.
Righthaven has been under fire lately by other judges as well. The company's business model relies on suing what it deems to be copyright violators. It buys the copyrights to newspaper content and then sues blogs and websites that repost the material. According to Wired, it has been profitable thus far but this new ruling may reverse the copyright "troll"'s luck.
Although the fair use defense allows for copyrighted material to be reposted for criticism, commentary, research or teaching purposes, sometimes material online is blatantly stolen or plagiarized. Some authors report their books being stolen in their entirety and sold on Amazon's Kindle. On an e-book forum, one writer likened chasing down websites that had stolen her content to "playing whack-a-mole on an infinite grid".
Journalists must be especially conscientious with material, as they traditionally face suspension or termination if they plagiarize material. Recently, Poynter's Mallary Jean Tenore mused over whether newsrooms have relaxed plagiarism standards. She compiled a list of recent cases of plagiarism, and determined that not as many journalists have been fired for lifting a few uncredited sentences since the recession, when news organizations began to contract. Paige Wiser, of the Chicago Sun-Times, is the most recent exception. She was fired after writing a concert review that fabricated details.
Poynter's Kelly McBridge told Tenore, "Some editors these days seem more willing to overlook minor plagiarism, because it almost always involves writers trying to work fast."
Working quickly is not an excuse for plagiarizing copyrighted material. There are repercussions for both journalists and bloggers if they lift copyrighted content, although there are also appropriate ways to use other's material. Reblogging an article to generate discussion may be permissible in court, but stealing a paragraph has consequences for bloggers and journalists alike.
Photo Credit: Tennessee Federal Criminal Lawyer Blog