Copyright - how much is too much text to copy?

I presume that it’s OK to quote one line of text from a news article and to link back to the article. However, it would be a breach of copyright to copy the whole article on to your site.

My question is, how much text can be copied from a news article, when the quote is accredited to the article and linked back to it?


If in doubt, contact the source for clarification. There are no concrete set of rules when it comes to this. Just do a Google search for ‘Righthaven’ to discover people being sued for 6 figures for quoting a few sentences from an article. Some publications are happy for you to take the entire article as long as credit and a link is given, some spit out the dummy if you quote more than a few words.

‘Fair use’ is an argument you can use in court, but it’s really for a court to decide whether it is fair use or not. Either way, most people can’t afford to defend themselves in court, and with copyright ‘enforcement’ and ‘speculative invoicing’ being a big money-earner these days, why take the risk?

Usually a paragraph or so. Enough to highlight a point or get the gist of what the article’s about.

I agree with shadowbox :agree:

At the end of the day, get your own legal advice from someone qualified to give it.

If by some chance you end up getting sued one day, I doubt there is a judge anywhere who will accept a defence of so-and-so at sitepoint, or wherever, told me it was ok to do so :smiley:

If it is a big enough section to be asking the question then it is probably too much.

Thanks for the replies.

felgall I wasn’t asking the question in relation to a particular piece of text. I own a forum and want to set some guidelines as to how much content members can copy into their posts when they are posting about news stories or referencing articles.

In that case, I would say nothing. They can summarize in their own words and link to the original. There is no “fair use” in a forum. Fair use has very limited parameters. Posting in forums isn’t one of them. However, content at some sites (such as much of the content at government websites) is in the public domain, some is published under GPL and some is licensed under Creative Commons. I would put in your TOU that those sources, and only those sources may be directly quoted.

You’re in Europe right? Under the Ecommerce Directive, as a forum ‘service provider’ you are generally not liable for your members posts - however, posting a ‘guideline’ on what you, the site owner, considers ‘acceptable’ to avoid copyright infringement in these cases could probably go towards you losing that liability if any of the posts that followed your guidelines was eventually judged to be infringing.

IMO, better to post no guideline at all, or simply say that your official stance is to not post any text at all. Ridiculous I know.

BTW, was reading this the other day - a ruling in Germany suggests that if you moderate a forum, you could yourself be liable for user generated content.

That’s scarey :eek: - glad I’m not a moderator :whip:

Yes, I’m in Ireland. The site is hosted on a server in the US.

The law is funny like that sometimes.

If I see something that breaches copyright I remove it. My worry is that members could post content on the site, that I don’t recognise as infringing on someone’s copyright.

As shadowbox said, they only way to be sure is asking. Associated Press is infamous for going after sites that include as few as 5 words from its articles. Here’s a relevant – and pretty scary – ruling: EU court rules 11-word snippets can violate copyright

In most cases removing that content immediately when someone tells you it infringes copyright will ensure that you are not held responsible.