Every column that I write is derived from information published elsewhere along with my comments on that information. Most of the text you are reading is from me but portions are in “quotation marks” which signal to you, the reader, that I am appropriating another’s words.

It can also indicate whimsey as when one uses “air quotes” to make a point.

In most cases, the original author of those words has copyrighted them in order to protect his or her ownership. However, the original purpose of copyright was “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

(US Constitution Article I Section 8 | Clause 8 – Patent and Copyright Clause of the Constitution. ).


Note that the phrase “To promote the progress of science and art” is the primary reason for a copyright law. To protect the author or discoverer’s financial interests is secondary. In other words, individual rights are subservient to the rights of the people, to society as a whole.

Since then, in order to balance the rights of the individual and the laws of society a compromise has been reached: the “fair-use” doctrine. It means that when an author uses another’s words verbatim they must be enclosed by quotation marks as I did in the opening paragraph.

There are also four more complicated requirements that must be followed in order to qualify for this as a fair-use exemption, The two most important requirements specify that you cannot profit from it without an agreement from the owner. This usually means the owner will share any profit you make and the owner will not incur any costs as a result. It also means that you cannot appropriate too much of the material from the owner; the shorter the quote the better.

After all, it does not seem right for me to put your whole book in quotes and attempt to claim it as fair-use.

These requirements are discussed in great detail at these two websites: fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/four-factors and www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html.


As an example of fair use, I can use the following somewhat lengthy quote:

“On February 7, 2007, Stephanie Lenz posted a blurry twenty-nine second home video of her toddler on YouTube. In the video, thirteen-month-old Holden bobbed up and down on his rubbery legs, at his mother’s enthusiastic urging, to Prince’s 1980s hit Let’s Go Crazy while his older sister ran breathlessly around the kitchen table.

The song, playing in another room, was barely recognizable. But when Lenz uploaded her video to YouTube, she titled it “Let’s Go Crazy #1”—leading Universal Music Corp. to find it with a web crawler and send YouTube a takedown notice à la the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which provided copyright owners with an efficient vehicle for quick removal of such content. For the next six months, anyone looking for the video—namely, Holden’s relatives—would find a black rectangle in its place, bearing the ubiquitous YouTube apology: “We’re sorry, this video is no longer available.”

Although the video was eventually reposted, Stephanie Lenz sued Universal in July 2007 for knowingly misrepresenting her work as copyright infringement and argued that her use of the “Let’s Go Crazy” recording was covered by the “fair use” doctrine..... At its heart is a crucial question: exactly how should the copyrights of content owners be balanced against the fair-use rights of those who post user-generated content (UGC) on Web sites such as YouTube—content that often contains copyrighted songs, film and television clips and other copyright-protected work mixed together with original work.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) ostensibly answered this question with its system of takedown notices which allow the owner of the content to. However, the Lenz case represents a challenge to that paradigm—one that argues for a fine-tuning of the law and the parameters of fair use.”


So, if I use this quote in my column as I already have done, then I must also indicate the source, jitp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/lets-go-crazy-lenz-v-universal-in-the-new-media-classroom, and, in this case, explain how it is allowed under the fair-use law; I do not profit from it and it does not diminish the value of the piece for the original author.

If I did profit and it diminished the value of the piece then I would be breaking the copyright law.

The Lenz vs Universal court case had to decide who was responsible for determining whether fair-use was applicable . Universal claimed that it was not its responsibility to make that determination. However, the court ruled that it was their responsibility to review the criteria for fair use before taking down the post, and, since Universal provided no such evidence, the EFF representing Lenz won the case establishing a modification of the fair-use law. This case dragged on for ten years before Lenz won the suit.

To see the actual video, just search on: “Let’s go crazy #1 youtube.”

Dr. Stewart A. Denenberg is an emeritus professor of computer science at Plattsburgh State, retiring recently after 30 years there. Before that, he worked as a technical writer, programmer and consultant to the U.S. Navy and private Industry. Send comments and suggestions to his blog at www.tec-soc.blogspot.com, where there is additional text and links. He can also be reached at denenbsa@gmail.com.

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