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Thread: Letters to the editors of newspapers

  1. #1
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    Letters to the editors of newspapers

    Can we post them here in their entirety? By their very nature they are intended for public consumption and public comment, so it seems to me that it is fair comment to post them here for the same purpose, but I don't know the law.

    This thread
    http://www.bautforum.com/showthread.php?t=35092
    is obviously inhibited by the rules that say we can't post entire works. But the letters concerned are mostly less than 200 words, as requested by the newspaper, and if we "paraphrase" them, we're virtually posting them in their entire form anyway, but not letting the authors have their own say in their own words. We have to change what the writers say in order to post what they say. It seems strange to me.

  2. #2
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    No, you can't I'm sorry. Post a link to the letter.

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    I don't get the rules about posting up entire works. As long as you give credit to the original author and let people know that they wrote it, what's the big deal?

    I have to brush up on my copyright laws...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lonewulf
    I don't get the rules about posting up entire works. As long as you give credit to the original author and let people know that they wrote it, what's the big deal?

    I have to brush up on my copyright laws...
    Well, that's just it. If you do that, you break copyright law. Copyright is exactly what it sounds like: the right to make copies of any given work. Only the person who holds the copyright (and any party that he or she gives permission to) is allowed to copy the work. You can copy small amounts of the work (the amount varies by jurisdiction), but not the whole thing.

    If you post the whole thing and give credit, you're still publishing the author's work without his or her permission.

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    I will try to find something to support this idea but I believe something like a letter to the editor, by definition, has been released by the author into the public domain. If that is true then it is alright to repost such an item in its entirety.

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    I would assume that the letter writer either retains copyright or hands it to the newspaper.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fraser
    No, you can't I'm sorry. Post a link to the letter.
    I understand that, if there is indeed a link, and also the need to paraphrase long passages, but I'm not aware that any New Zealand letters to editors ever make it onto the internet. They are only ever in the newspapers as were all pre-internet letters letters too.

    New Zealand copyright law is very simple: Copyright automatically belongs to the author or the person, company or body that commissioned the work, unless it has been assigned in writing to another party. Obviously, companies might want to own the copyright to works created by their employees as part of their employment. But there are also "fair use" provisions for study purposes or comment, and I think that quoting a small letter to the editor in it's entirety for comment and properly crediting the author would come under those provisions.

    There is really only a problem here with small works that are not on the internet.


    <Edited to add:>

    For instance, some of my smallest letters published by newspapers are as follows:

    New BNZ building
    Sir:-- Why did they bother? It's so d****d ugly.

    Putting up the style
    Sir:-- If Simon Upton continues his pompous overuse of long and obscure words, I suggest we coin a new phrase: one-uptonship.

    Heard it all before
    Sir:-- The Bisop of Durham tries to relieve people of their ignorance, and they want to crucify him for it (December 21). Haven't I heard of that somewhere before?


    How could anyone comment on these, somewhere other than in the particular newspapers, without quoting them in their entirety?
    Last edited by Kiwi; 2005-Nov-27 at 04:05 AM.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lonewulf
    I don't get the rules about posting up entire works. As long as you give credit to the original author and let people know that they wrote it, what's the big deal?

    I have to brush up on my copyright laws...
    The issue is reporducing the item - you need permission to reproduce it. We've sort of touched on this before in BABBLING, but to summarise, the author is not necessarily the copyright holder - and the permission to reproduce the item must be sought form the copyright holder. In the case of a letter to the editor, usually the newpaper assumes copyright control. This is usually stated somewhere on the letters page with a statement like "All published letters become the property of the Telegraph Newspaper" or something like that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Supreme Canuck
    You can copy small amounts of the work (the amount varies by jurisdiction), but not the whole thing.
    You are meaning, copy small amounts to the BAUT post, right? Under USAn copyright law, you are sometimes allowed to copy the whole thing, but that right is limited.
    Quote Originally Posted by Lance
    I will try to find something to support this idea but I believe something like a letter to the editor, by definition, has been released by the author into the public domain. If that is true then it is alright to repost such an item in its entirety.
    Anything in the public domain is OK, of course, but that would depend upon the individual newspaper or publication. Some use a copyleft
    Quote Originally Posted by Kiwi
    I understand that, if there is indeed a link, and also the need to paraphrase long passages, but I'm not aware that any New Zealand letters to editors ever make it onto the internet. They are only ever in the newspapers as were all pre-internet letters letters too.
    IANANZL, but there's probably a reason for that!

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    You are meaning, copy small amounts to the BAUT post, right? Under USAn copyright law, you are sometimes allowed to copy the whole thing, but that right is limited.
    I didn't mean that. I was simplifying a bit. Probably shouldn't do that...

  11. #11
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    Use common sense. Newspapers generally make (or have
    historically made) their income from selling copies of stuff
    created mostly within a day or two before it was printed.
    After a few days, the material no longer has much value as
    news, so reprinting it can't take away income from the paper.
    Also, reprinting something from a New Zealand newspaper in
    an international discussion forum isn't exactly competing for
    the New Zealand paper's target audience.

    Reprinting a letter or story in full, if practical, usually respects
    the author's intent better than an abstract, and usually is
    exactly what the author would want-- even if you follow the
    reprint with your own analysis showing how everything the
    author said was wrong.

    If you are going to reprint hundreds of letters from a single
    newspaper-- say, all letters published in the year 2004-- then
    you need permission from the newspaper. There is no rational
    reason not to go ahead and post a few short letters. ("A few"
    and "short" being undefined.) The fact that the letters are
    copyrighted is not a rational reason-- just a pointless, useless
    policy.

    -- Jeff, in Minneapolis

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by paulie jay
    The issue is reporducing the item - you need permission to reproduce it. We've sort of touched on this before in BABBLING, but to summarise, the author is not necessarily the copyright holder - and the permission to reproduce the item must be sought form the copyright holder. In the case of a letter to the editor, usually the newpaper assumes copyright control. This is usually stated somewhere on the letters page with a statement like "All published letters become the property of the Telegraph Newspaper" or something like that.
    This is precisely the case, and we take copyright issues seriously here.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Root
    UsReprinting a letter or story in full, if practical, usually respects
    the author's intent better than an abstract, and usually is
    exactly what the author would want-- even if you follow the
    reprint with your own analysis showing how everything the
    author said was wrong.
    I agree that that would be the author's intent, so it should be fairly simple to obtain the permission of the copyright holder, no?
    There is no rational
    reason not to go ahead and post a few short letters. ("A few"
    and "short" being undefined.) The fact that the letters are
    copyrighted is not a rational reason-- just a pointless, useless
    policy.
    Pointless? Even it if happened to be against the law?

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    As someone who deals with government legislation on an almost daily basis I can confirm that law is not necessarily about what is rational, what is fair or what is pointless. It just "is" - and that's where we must start.

    It's like the person who is pulled over by the police for doing 70km/h in a 60km/h zone and says "but it should be 70km/h here." It won't stop the speeding ticket.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by hhEb09'1
    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Root
    There is no rational reason not to go ahead and post a few short
    letters. ("A few" and "short" being undefined.) The fact that the
    letters are copyrighted is not a rational reason-- just a pointless,
    useless policy.
    Pointless? Even it if happened to be against the law?
    Obviously. Saying "the letters are copyrighted" is equivalent
    to saying "posting them without permission is against the law."
    You merely repeated part of what I said, in different words.

    Laws can be designed to deal with every imaginable situation,
    like computer programs, and applied to situations without human
    intervention or human thought. Or they can be kept simple, and
    people can apply them using common sense. Neither technique
    works perfectly, of course, so both techniques are necessarily
    used, and a balance between them found.

    My assertion was that, in this case, it is better for all if
    people depend a little bit more on their thinking abilities,
    and a little bit less on a pre-programmed set of instructions
    to make their decisions for them.

    I disagree with John Adams's sound bite: A government in which
    laws take precedence over the judgement of thinking, rational,
    motivated, active people, is dead.

    -- Jeff, in Minneapolis

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kiwi
    For instance, some of my smallest letters published by newspapers are as follows
    Under US law, short phrases (nor slogans, names or titles) are not protected by copyright - don't know about NZ. However, how short, and the issue of fair use are sometimes (perhaps intentionally) grey areas. I don't think interests are served by saying that 7-word phrases are not protected but 8-word phrases are, or that you can quote 30% of a work but not 30.1%. Context matters.

    edit to add: "Fair use" is the privision the OP should be leveraging. Again, under US law, in section 107 "... purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright." (Note that quoting any and all of that section is not a copyright infringement, as works of the US government are not protected by copyright.) However, the people who run this board have the final say, and that's the important thing.

  17. #17
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    You do realise that copyright law is there for a rational reason, yes? If we bypass these laws (even in a small way) it can lead to bad things.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Root
    Laws can be designed to deal with every imaginable situation,like computer programs, and applied to situations without human intervention or human thought. Or they can be kept simple, and people can apply them using common sense. Neither technique works perfectly, of course, so both techniques are necessarily used, and a balance between them found.

    My assertion was that, in this case, it is better for all if people depend a little bit more on their thinking abilities, and a little bit less on a pre-programmed set of instructions to make their decisions for them.
    This forum does not exist to debate the merits of legalities. We aim to follow the law, copyright included.

  19. #19
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    well according to the Copyright Laws of NZ

    Quote Originally Posted by NZ Copyright Act 1994 part III: Acts Permitted in relation to Copyright Works
    42. Criticism, review, and news reporting---(1) Fair dealing with a work for the purposes of criticism or review, of that or another work or of a performance of a work, does not infringe copyright in the work if such fair dealing is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.
    So I'd say that there is a very good case for being able to post all of a short letter as long as it is for critisim and review and the work is appropriately noted as to the title, author and publisher.

    Of course this would only apply for things published under NZ copyright law.

    I honestly think that Fraser's short reply really misses the point here. Kiwi was asking about putting up things that are only availible in print, so saying link to it is pointless as there is no way to link to something printed in a newspaper.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Root
    Obviously. Saying "the letters are copyrighted" is equivalent
    to saying "posting them without permission is against the law."
    You merely repeated part of what I said, in different words.
    I repeated nothing, except the word "pointless"--the different words have a different emphasis. Asking the owners of the board to put themselves at risk of legal entanglements seems a little unnecessary--why not just put the letters on your own website, and link to them? Then you take the risk?
    My assertion was that, in this case, it is better for all if
    people depend a little bit more on their thinking abilities,
    and a little bit less on a pre-programmed set of instructions
    to make their decisions for them.
    Not all laws are irrational.
    I disagree with John Adams's sound bite: A government in which
    laws take precedence over the judgement of thinking, rational,
    motivated, active people, is dead.
    We still have the judgement of thinking, rational, motivated, active moderators
    Quote Originally Posted by PhantomWolf
    I honestly think that Fraser's short reply really misses the point here. Kiwi was asking about putting up things that are only availible in print, so saying link to it is pointless as there is no way to link to something printed in a newspaper.
    I think Fraser's response came before it was known that there was no link to the material. Nowadays, it's probably OK to assume everything is on the web, if the authors really want it out there

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by hhEb09'1
    Nowadays, it's probably OK to assume everything is on the web, if the authors really want it out there
    I'm actually willing to debate that one. Yes a lot of things are available nowdays, but not all information is available on the net, especially things such as letters to the editor, be it newspapers, or the TV Guide. As such to discuss them here we either have to end up paraphasing them or not really being able to have a suitable discussion, yet under NZ Copyright Law, and in this case that is what it is covered by, as long as the work is given appropriate recognition, it is allowable to use it for purposes of review and criticism. That is what we are wanting to do so to claim it is a copyright issue is wrong. Usually I'd have no trouble with the rule, but when we're dealing with short letters that aren't available on the net and in a situation that is clearly exempt under law, I don't see the problem.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by PhantomWolf
    As such to discuss them here we either have to end up paraphasing them or not really being able to have a suitable discussion, yet under NZ Copyright Law, and in this case that is what it is covered by, as long as the work is given appropriate recognition, it is allowable to use it for purposes of review and criticism. That is what we are wanting to do so to claim it is a copyright issue is wrong. Usually I'd have no trouble with the rule, but when we're dealing with short letters that aren't available on the net and in a situation that is clearly exempt under law, I don't see the problem.
    Questions:

    1) The NZ Copyright Act 1994 (ACTS PERMITTED IN RELATION TO COPYRIGHT WORKS) states that "fair dealing" for the purposes of criticism may not infringe copyright. I see that fair dealing has some similarity to "fair use" in the US, including being unfortunately somewhat ill-defined. It is defenses to charges of copyright. Are you willing to expose yourself (and maybe the BAUT hosts) to the unpleasant situation of possibly needing to put up a fair-dealing defense against infringement charges?

    2) A fair-dealing defense appears to me to be restricted only to uses of a "reasonable portion" of a work. Is an entire letter a reasonable portion of a letter? Obviously and unequivocally so?

    3) If the letters in question are so brief that their entirety would be considered a reasonable portion thereof, then, pray tell, what is so difficult about paraphrasing the ideas in the short letter? After all, it is the ideas you are presumably criticising, and not the actual creative combinations of words chosen by the author to express those ideas. Paraphrase them. It's good brain exercise. It's certainly a lot safer than copying.

    Unlike you, I have trouble seeing the reproduction of an entire letter as being "clearly exempt under the law" of NZ.

    If you can't see the problem, can you at least understand that the BAUT hosts might see the possibility of a problem? What do you think would be their motivation for permitting the reproduction of entire letters on their board? Is it the only way the valuable criticsm can get done?
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by PhantomWolf
    I'm actually willing to debate that one.
    No problem, I'll concede that one. I was exaggerating.

    Still, the resources of the internet are available--if someone wanted to take the risk of loading the content to a website that they control, they have the ability. I don't understand why anyone would think it would be the responsibility of our hosts to do so, or to allow it.

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