How do you handle using written information that’s found on web sites?
For example, a local wellness center has a description of a workshop that they offer in Breathwork. The description is general.
From my research, it seems that the description is not that unique (other centers/facilitators use something similar to it.)
One of my sources, has told me I’m free to use information on the web site/flyer for the workshop. I could have her read it to me, I suppose. I guess it’s no different than any other written poster or flyer.
But how do I give it credit in the article? Can I quote it? Can I use it, word for word, without quoting it?
The notion that “information wants to be free” has led to a lot of confusion on the web.
In the first case he was talking about how cheaply information can be disseminated through the web; in the second he was talking about how expensive it can be to create information.
When you read the information about breath work on a particular site you’re not paying for the privilege of reading that information – that’s the free part of information on the ‘net.
However, just because the web allows you to read information for free does NOT mean you are allowed to copy it.
It’s just like a newspaper or a magazine. If you picked up a magazine at a doctor’s office you could read the articles without paying for a subscription, but the articles there are specifically or implicitly copyrighted. The same thing is true if the magazine is distributed for free – it’s still copyrighted.
So are the articles here and on any web site. Unless the author of the site gives you specific permission to copy from the site you can’t do so legally.
Or almost.The almost is what’s known as “the doctrine of fair use.” In the United States, people are allowed limited and “fair” use of a work without permission from the author or creator.
Wikipedia uses the example of when toy manufacturer Mattel lost it’s copyright infringement suit against artist Tom Forsythe who used photographs of Barbie dolls in his work.
You can also read about fair use at copyright.gov, although I find it impossible really feel I understand what’s written there.
A more typical example are the small snippets of copyrighted text reviewers use when reviewing books and other works. Most of the time those snippets are used without permission and considered fair use.
It doesn’t matter that the description is not, in your judgement, unique; you can’t use it without permission.
It would seem your choices are:
- To get permission – probably not worth the effort – or maybe it is. I don’t know what you’re trying to get done.
- To quote a sentence or so (one of the problems with the fair use doctrine is that how much or how little is not specified) and give credit to the site or author.
- To totally rewrite the information making it your own and also subject to an automatic copyright when you publish it.
I sometimes will quote a passage of something, but I always make it clear I’m quoting and what exactly I’m quoting from. If it’s a website I link because I know linking is not only the nice thing to do, it also helps that site build traffic.
Now, I’m not a lawyer, thank goodness. There are probably lawyers who read this blog. And other folks who have had a lot of experience with this issue may want to point out what I’ve left out or what I’ve gotten confused about.
By all means, feel free to leave a comment.
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