A Fair Use Challenge
I am quoted in a Forbes article regarding how authors and writers can rely on copyright fair use when citing other textual works in their books and articles. The Forbes writer challenged me to provide a 35-50-word fair use rule of thumb to which authors and writers can refer when quoting other works.
A Rule of Thumb for Fair Use
Although I exceeded the desired word count by nine, here’s what I offered as a rule of thumb:
Use the quote for purposes of commentary, news reporting, or parody – though that need not be the primary purpose of your entire article or book. Quote as few words as possible to make your point. Note your fair use chances increase when quoting a factual work like a history rather than a highly creative work like a science fiction novel.
Caveats for Any Fair Use Rule of Thumb
Qualitative; Not Quantitative. Fair use is not a quantitative test. It is a qualitative test. There is no bright line rule in determining what qualifies as fair use such as 250 words of text or 8 notes of a song or 10 seconds of a film.
Specific Circumstances Matter. Instead, whether or not a particular use qualifies as a fair use depends on the specific circumstances of the use. Hence, there are certainly uses that do not meet all the criteria stated in my rule of thumb and still qualify as a fair use.
Fickle. Fair use is often fickle and we cannot always answer with 100% certainty whether a particular use is a fair use. In those circumstances, authors have to evaluate the riskiness of citing the material without a license and how much of that risk they and their publishers are willing to accept.