How Much Excerpting of the News Is Acceptable?

Yesterday’s New York Times article Copyright Challenge for Sites that Excerpt by Brian Stelter explores the boundaries as to what is acceptable with regard to excerpting from news stories by other websites, and what is causing news publishers to become uncomfortable. When is it acceptable to quote the majority of an article in a blog post? Is it okay to take a whole RSS feed from a news source (which they are freely supplying), and republish it on a website with additional advertising?

It seems that it all depends on who is doing the republishing. Prominent free news aggregator Google News seems to be accepted, and the Huffington Post is popular and therefore drives traffic to the news sites although that is even sometimes in question. What is very questionable are the “no name” sites that pull in the news content but send little traffic back to the news sites.

According to the article:

some media executives are growing concerned that the increasingly popular curators of the Web that are taking large pieces of the original work — a practice sometimes called scraping — are shaving away potential readers and profiting from the content.

With the Web’s advertising engine stalling just as newspapers are under pressure, some publishers are second-guessing their liberal attitude toward free content.

“A lot of news organizations are saying, ‘We’re not willing to accept the tiny fraction of a penny that we get from the page views that these links are sending in,’ ” said Joshua Benton, the director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard. “They think they need to defend their turf more aggressively.”

The article goes on to explain that copyright infringement lawsuits in the U.S. are increasing. Copyright law in the U.S. is unclear (or perhaps more accurately, difficult to interpret) as to what exactly constitutes fair use in these situations.

Photo: “Redone” by Robert Mueller. Used under Creative Commons licensing.


  1. This Week in Tech #184 had an interesting bit of discussion as to this at the start. The law may not be the problem. Part of the perceived decline of newspapers in the US, besides the loss of revenue due to Craigslist, is that all that is happening is the minor repackaging of Reuters/AP/UPI/whoever content. Excerpting may work well for Ariana Huffington’s group blog but people in the US seem to crave instead unique perspectives.

    If the newspaper is no different from Reuters online, why read the newspaper? As a business decision, content producers are seriously keeping that in mind. Building unique perspectives is hard when it feels like your efforts are diluted. With complicated legislation in the matter the ball is in play with no clear victor in sight.

  2. I agree, Stephen, it feels like they are trying to use the Copyright legislation to back them up, but it is less about copyright and more about the newspapers trying to find a workable business model in the age of new media. They are trying different tactics, but have not yet hit the right balance. If there is a right balance, that is.

  3. Connie –

    I think there is a big difference between grabbing the headline with an excerpt (like Google news) and grabbing the full post (thieves). The headline and excerpt drives traffic to the originating story and website. The full post reproduction does not.

    We bloggers do not ask for much. Some traffic and an occasional comment. Just enough to let us know that someone is listening. The reproduction of the full post takes even that away.

    It seems pretty clear to me that reproducing the full post on another website is a violation of US copyright law.

  4. Very true. There was someone (I now can’t remember who) who includes a cite and link on every blog post for that reason, stating the source of the post because he had posts stolen from his blog so many times.