During a class on how news organizations use social media, one of my students asked if it was OK to republish any photo that appeared on Facebook, Twitter, or Weibo, the Chinese Twitter.
Some reuse is permitted
But is it OK to publish a photo from Twitter or Facebook or some other social network on your blog? On the front page of a newspaper? In a television news report?
Whether a work violates copyright is ultimately up to a court to decide. Current law takes four factors into account. A work does not have to comply with all four to qualify as fair use. You need to do a balancing test of the factors. Any one of these four could trump or outweigh the others, Angelotti said. She likens the process to weighing four beans on a scale. The four factors (beans) are:
- the nature of the work. Facts, data, and news are generally of public interest and come under fair use protection. This factor can be very heavy and outweigh the other three in importance. Information published on government websites generally would be considered fair game. An exception might be a photo or article that was explicitly copyrighted.
- the purpose and character of the work. It should transform or add something new. If the new work attempts to replace the original, that would weigh against fair use.
- the amount you use. It should not be so much as to replace the original. However, parodies and satires are usually protected because by their nature they make heavy use of the original material.
- the market value effect. The weight of this factor depends on how much the new work harms the market value of the original work.
|These four aspects of a new work need to be weighed in determining|
whether using copyrighted material constitutes fair use, Angelotti says.
Creative Commons and attribution
Some producers of web content who want others to share and build on their work give permission under a Creative Commons license. The creator puts a notice on the content of the conditions of use. There are six levels of license. They range from allowing any user (even commercial) to republish and modify the original work as long as there is attribution and a link to the original, to allowing others to share the work but not change it or use it commercially.
What we should take away from this case is that individual judges and juries may give different weight to the various factors, Angelotti said. There are no absolutes in the law. In other words, we should weigh the factors carefully before we republish material we take from the web. A good policy is to seek written permission.
Published with permission of Ellyn Angelotti, Poynter Institute
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