It's not often that I recommend that "every member should know", but I think this is something we should all know about.  My reasoning is that we are a self-policing website, as far as I know with no official, active moderators, except when somebody thinks there is something egregious and uses the "report a problem" button.  You may think that being self-policing is good, bad, or indifferent, and even disagree with me that this is the case, but for purposes of this discussion, it is what it is.

Where I am coming from is that, living on the internet, most of our sources of information from the internet as well.  On reading an article that inspires us, angers us, makes us say "wow", makes us say "terrible", we like to share that article.  That may mean writing a post on Nexus in a group or the Forum, referencing the article, I hope with an accurate link, and quoting from it, along with our thoughts, commentary, or summary.  The question is, is that activity legal?  How do we tell?  How do we respond when we see someone else, maybe, going over the line, or making appropriate use?  How do we keep  ourselves, the web site, and and the website owner, safe from litigation?

Precaution:  I am not a lawyer or paralegal.  My impressions about "Fair Use" come from internet searches and reading, Even if I was legally trained, there can be controversy about what is "Fair Use", and some issues may have to be decided in court.

What is Fair Use?

This can get sticky, because how to I ensure that I am making "Fair Use", of quoting articles about "Fair Use"?  But I'll do my best.  The concept is defined by the US Copyright Office, as "a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances".  The copyright office describes examples of use that qualifies as "Fair Use", such as quoting from an article to critique it, for commentary, to report news, for teaching, and for research.  Each of those has legal implications, and there are additional requirements before quoting an article can be considered "Fair Use".

"Fair Use" is more likely to be OK if for educational and nonprofit use.  However, that is not enough.  The use must be "transformative".  That means that the use of material transforms it in some way, by adding something new, changing the purpose or character.

Only the minimum amount should be quoted.  The more you quote, the less likely your use is considered fair.  However, there are no specifics on how many words, or how big a proportion of the writing, can be used to be considered not too much.  If you are taking "the heart" of the material, even if that is minimal, it is not considered compliant with the "Fair Use" concept.

The use of a article should not take away any profit or benefits of ownership from the author or copyright owner,

The 4 main factors are outlined by the copyright office here.  In addition, there are articles from WIkipediaStanfordCornell, and other sources.

So, to summarize, if material is copied from another source, in order to be considered "Fair Use", it should be for educational AND nonprofit use, AND be transformative, AND be a minimal amount, AND not take away profit from the owner.

OK, what then do we do about it?

First, for someone who is thinking about posting material from an article, I think it's a good idea to think about whether your use of material meets the criteria for fair use. 

Second, for someone who is reading a post with copied material, I encourage you to politely comment if you think the material does not meet fair use criteria.  If there is no response, it's a good idea to use the "report a problem" link.  Then I think you did your job.

For those of us who created groups, we have limited ability to ensure fair use.  We should be aware of what is happening in our group.  If we are not, then it is our responsibility to select a willing and able moderator, or close the group to further activity, letting someone else open a new group that they are willing to take responsibility for. 

If you have a group that is inactive, and you no longer wish to moderate, then I think the group shgould be closed.  Un-moderated groups will not suddenly become moderated.

As a group creator, your options are limited.  If you see excessive use of material, that you think may over-reach fair use, you can gently inform the member, and offer a solution.  I  think then if they don't respond, or dont respond appropriately, there is a responsibility to remove the offensive material.  There are two ways that I know to do that.  (1) Use the "Report a problem button".  That might take a long time, if ever.  or (2) suspend the writer from the group.  Suspension automatically includes removing all of their posts from the group, not just the one that you are concerned about.  I think you should inform the person of that, but then also do it.  No one should criticize you for doing the right thing, especially when it involves potential liability for yourself and others.

Those are my thoughts and impressions about Fair Use.  I think we should, from time to time, consider are we doing the right thing, is what we are doing legal, and if it's not clear, what actions should we take?  I don't have answers to all of those questions, and I think the forum is a good place to consider them.

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Daniel, when I was writing for publication in a little-known professional journal I was a member of the National Writers Union and learned of fair use and its ambiguity.

The doctrine's warning against taking from copyright-protected work may be its only unambiguous part. Is it stated anywhere in the Nexus rules?

Tom, it's in the Terms of Service.

Also Atheist Nexus is on the Ning Network, which has the same restriction in its own Terms of Service.

We are bound by the Ning Terms of Service as well.


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