Journalists and other writers, including the e-book variety, rely constantly on fair use in quoting big shots such as Donald Trump.
Without fair use, the collective IQ of the writers’ output would drop 20 points. Trumpian quotes may lower it, but what about words from other newsmakers and experts?
So, dear readers, what do you think of the New York Times gouging two professors a whopping $1,884 to pick up fewer than 300 words? Would that the NYT’s freelance rates be the same as those for permissions!
Writing for NiemanLab, Shan Wang says of the professors: “They’re outraged, and have taken to Kickstarter—in part to recoup the charges, but primarily, they say, to ‘protest the Times’ and publishers’ lack of respect for Fair Use.” You can donate here.
“The Times’ claim has no legal basis, and represents an arrogant rejection of the principle of fair use that is ironic for an organization that presents itself as a defender of freedom of expression,” say Professors Daniel C. Hallin of the University of California, San Diego, and Charles L. Briggs from UC, Berkeley.
According to the two, “We reduced the size of a number of quotations, but in the end there were three from the Times we couldn’t cut to 50 words without damaging the integrity of our scholarship.”
So “we ended up paying the Times’ $1,884 to reproduce three brief quotations totaling less than 300 words (the publisher said this represented a 20% discount on what the Times was originally asking).”
The professors say: “We could have paid this amount out of research funds from our University, but it seemed to us unethical to use taxpayer funds to subsidize a big media corporation and undermine a right that belongs to all scholars and the public in general. So we paid out of pocket (our advance on royalties for the book will be $800).”
Oh, to think of the price tag here if I’d been quoting the Times instead of NiemanLab and the two professors!
So why did Hallin and Briggs have to go to the Times in the first place? You’d hope that fair use would cover situations like this, and that Routledge, the professors’ publisher, wouldn’t have required permissions for the fewer than 300 words. Guess what they were writing? A book on the media’s health and medicine coverage—the very kind of project that that fair use should especially protect, if we apply guidelines that Wang cites from Peter Jaszi and Patricia Aufderheide. Alas, in the publishing industry, Routledge is hardly alone in its maniacal insistence on permissions.
Consider the free speech and general political repercussions, however, if Routledge, the Times, and other publishers of books and newspapers let fair use die.
Right now the billionaire class enjoys special access to the media, thanks to their legions of PR people as well as their ownership of so much of it. Now suppose we keep monetizing quotes. That won’t be the best of news for nonbillionaires and nonconglomerates writing and publishing books.
Keep in mind the crazy Donald’s hope of changing libels laws—far-fetched now, but maybe not in the long term if he and his ilk get into office and subvert our system sufficiently. You bet they’ll war against fair use, not just libel verdicts shaped by the famous New York Times Co. vs. Sullivan case.
While The Donald’s wrath is probably directed more at this point against Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post than against the New York Times, the NYT just might end up hoist on its on petard in regard to overdone monetization of quotes. No, the Donald scenario isn’t probable. But we still need to think of this in Strangelovian terms. As with global nuclear war, the scarier the possibilities the more we should be on our guard regardless of the unlikeliness of the worst happening.
Just as you might expect, the Times released a statement to Chan saying it’s pro-fair use and is simply worried about the costs of news-gathering. But practice is a different story. Given the corporate greed at work here along with perhaps a dash of hostility toward external criticism, may I put forth a modest proposal for what is normally one of my favorite newspapers? Drop the famous slogan “All the news that’s fit to print.” Change it to “All the news that’s fit to gouge for.”