copyright question

Martin Waters
Thu Mar 25 21:53:11 EDT 2010

--- On Wed, 3/24/10, Donna Halper <> wrote:
> I am working on a magazine article and I
> wanted to print a scanned copy of a top-40 survey from,
> let's say, the old WMEX, which is now defunct.  Or
> perhaps the old WRKO back when it was top-40.  Who
> gives the permissions for that these days-- WMEX is long
> gone, and the management of WRKO today is quite different
> from the old Drake top-40 days... I don't wanna print
> something and then gave somebody threaten to sue me! 
   I don't know much about a law book, but I've always worked on the basis of what I call a broad interpretation of the "fair use" provision in copyright law. In daily journalism, or periodicals, or in scholarly papers, it's fair use to quote such items as a WMEX top 30 list in the context of discussing radio, or popular music, etc., back at that time. And the very nature of what you're writing means you're crediting the original source. The same goes for "quoting" it by reproducing an image of the original document. IMO, this case doesn't even require a very broad interpretation of fair use. 

   A broad interpretation, IMO, is an especially good way to go when the context is positive or neutral for the original author or issuer of the material. I think about it a lot more if the context is one of controversy. In plain English, despite the inevitable advice of attorneys to be extremely cautious [sorry, Attorney Ross :)) ], is there even a one-millionth of a percent chance that the Richmond Brothers' great-grandchildren or Entercom or General Tire and Rubber Co. actually going to sue over this?

   My approach really isn't as cavalier as that may make it appear. I go on the basis of, would a reasonable person agree that this is fair use. If yes, then, if someone wants to challenge it, let them. Meanwhile, we'll all commit free speech and contribute to a robust discussion of whatever the issue is. At the same time, I'll grant that it's easier to do that when working for a large news or other organization whose lawyers can deal with any incoming. 

   Also, regarding one of the points Joe Ross made: I have a hazy pseudo-recollection that before the big changes in the copyright laws that he mentioned, material was not automatically copyrighted by virtue of being created. In other words, is a top-30 list from, let's say, the 1960s, even copyrighted, if it wasn't registered in Washington and doesn't say copyright on it?


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