September 21, 2005

Ethical Quandry

I've been passed a link to Maureen Dowd's NYT column for today. Someone cut-and-pasted it into a Google Group. If you really want it, you can get it by running a search for her name and the column title. But should I link to it at Never Pay Retail?

When I find cut-and-pasted copies of my own columns on the web, I tend to feel a mixture of flattery and annoyance. On the one hand, it's nice that people care enough to share my work with their message-board buddies. On the other hand, it's not exactly fair use, and even though I realize that I'm not actually losing money from a message-board post-- they wouldn't pay a reprint fee in any case, and publications that are on the up-and-up will pay reprint fees regardless of what goes on in little corners of the Internet-- I still wish, at a gut level, that people would just link to the original column.

It would increase the utility of the site, and I doubt the Sulzberger Deadly Lawyer Assassin Squad would come after me just for putting up a link. I've already linked to The Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive (Krugman himself links to that, though he "disavow[s] any knowledge of its contents"). Still, I'm leaning against using links to message-board cut-and-pastes. Thoughts?

UPDATE: Comments are running against cut-and-pastes, though commenter Bauer makes the case that I'm wrong about the letter of the law, and message-board posts are fair use. (It still seems like a gray area, especially if I send all the traffic I'm getting to one of those posts.)

But commenter Rob solves the problem by pointing out the Albany Times-Union's same-day, one-day-only syndication of NYT columnists, rendering the discussion moot, at least as far as today's MoDo column goes.

Posted by John Tabin at September 21, 2005 09:34 AM

The Albany (NY) Times-Union has some of the Times' columnists available so you can link to Maureen guilt-free.

Note that the links are only good on the day they are published so there won't be an archive available.

Posted by: Rod at September 21, 2005 10:00 AM

I'm no ethicist, but I think you're doing the right thing by informing your readers of the opportunity to find the column elsewhere, but not actually linking to it yourself. Your site as it stands now is a creative, and ethical, use of what the internet offers. A cut-and-paste article just feels a little like cheating.

Posted by: Laura at September 21, 2005 10:03 AM

I would link to the newspapers that syndicate the columns, but NOT to cut and paste sites. Then you won't run into copyright issues.

Posted by: john at September 21, 2005 10:36 AM

In for a penny, in for a pound.

If you're going to "liberate" the columns, do it, wherever you find them.

I'm disappointed that this link on Mo's headline didn't lead to a read -- that's what this blog is for, you said.

Posted by: floo at September 21, 2005 10:49 AM

{"... it's not exactly fair use.."} ????

On the contrary -- it is exactly 'fair-use' under explicit Federal copyright law !

There are clear exceptions to 'exclusive' copyrights, if the full 'copies' are used for comment, news, critique, research, scholarship, or teaching.

As long as one is not directly making money on the 'copies', the letter-of-the-law grants very broad 'fair-use' rights to the public... for the above purposes.



107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

["... the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies... for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright."]


Posted by: Bauer at September 21, 2005 10:56 AM

Linking to newspapers who carry the syndicated column seems entirely ethical: they have paid for the column and presumably also the rights to distribute it via their web page. Thus it is entirely fair for you to "advertise" it.

The person who does a copy and paste, however, did *not* pay for the rights to distribute the column and thus it would be wrong for you to advertise it.

Posted by: Matt at September 21, 2005 11:39 AM

Put up the link to the google search, then you are in the clear, I would think!!

Posted by: Todd at September 21, 2005 11:54 AM

I agree with those who say that you should link only to syndicated versions of the columns. You'll feel better about in the morning. And, though you doubt the lawyers will come after you for putting up a link, you never know. I recommend staying on the level.

Posted by: Matt at September 21, 2005 12:18 PM

If this is the Times's way of trying to boost circulation and/or revenue, they're sadly deluded. All they're doing is taking one giant step *out* of the arena of ideas. Their columnists' names are household words. Let's see how long that lasts once their work is no longer available free on the Internet.

I buy the paper anyway, because I'm of the generation that likes to hold something in my hands when I read. (I don't subscribe because the morons that deliver the paper seem to be dedicated to making sure that I *don't* get my paper on a daily basis.) However, I like to be able to access the columns when I'm online reading the blogs, e-mailing friends, etc. A big "F-You" to the Times for taking that ability away from me, a faithful reader.

Posted by: tomi at September 21, 2005 12:30 PM

Yep, just link to the syndicated versions.

Clean karma.

Let the Times' business model contradictions
suicide themselves.

-- stan

Posted by: Stanley Krute at September 21, 2005 12:30 PM

Oh, and by the way:

The whole concept of this site is brilliant.
Deepest homage.

-- stan
network economics fan

Posted by: Stanley Krute\ at September 21, 2005 12:35 PM