When Does Reposting Go Beyond Fair Use?


I recently published a little article in a local paper that syndicated it to three other related newspapers. Entitled “Worst summer vacations in history,” it offered several faux diary entries purporting to be from summer vacations gone bad, including one from Noah’s son, Shem; an Egyptian complaining that the Sun God Rah never appeared while his brother-in-law, Atentophot-Who-Can’t-Hold-a-Job was around”; and a few others. (I’ll get to them in a moment, after I take a moment and wonder if Noah named his son Shem with the hopes he might someday join the 3 Stooges.)

The idea for the article came when a high-powered editor I was working with complained about not being able to get back to me because Internet access at his vacation home was spotty. I’ve encountered the same thing while on vacation — the frustration of not being able to access email, websites, and documents stored in the clouds, even when you should be at the beach or the lake or the mountains or wherever you are. I thought that would make a fun article — to balance complaints from a biblical flood on the one hand and the lack of WiFi for more recent vacations.

Anyway, the article didn’t generate any comments on the website of the newspapers that published it but I did see a mention of it on a fan fiction site. The person who posted the article had very nice things to say about the article, and then, instead of linking to it (as I did, above), she copied some of the diary entries onto the forum. Now I totally appreciate her kind words, and am glad the article amused her. (My wife did not like it so much at first because I assume she was concerned she’d recognize one of our vacations in the list; thankfully she realized we’ve never been to Nottingham where we were victimized by Robin Hood so that made a difference.) But the poster did not include a link back to the newspapers’ sites; I’m not suggesting that entry on the fan fiction site is generating tons of clicks — but none of those readers are clicking on the page, which might further encourage the newspaper editor to continue to run my pieces. (Just so you know, the fan fiction site is not devoted to my work; the article was cited as opportunity for fans of that particular ’60s TV show to write their own faux diary entries of bad summer vacations experienced the show’s characters.)

I’m sure the posting goes beyond fair use because it quotes more than half the article but it’s not like I’m selling copies of it elsewhere. I try to be careful about fair use whenever I cite someone else’s work in one of my blogs, and I always provide a link to the original. I want to encourage people to follow my work — not scold anyone — so, in the future, how about tweeting about it to drive traffic to the source?