How much can I copy from an online article? 8 Answers as of February 28, 2014

I'm preparing a content of a presentation skills course. I will use this course commercially; I will train students on the course and provide them with the content. I would like to use online articles in my content material. How much content am I allowed to use from every single article? I don't want to steal other people's ideas, so I’m worried ethically too. I would like to know the legal percent that I can use. I heard that it's legal to use 10% of a book. I was wondering if there's a similar percent for articles. Thank you.

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DunlapWeaver PLLC
DunlapWeaver PLLC | David Ludwig
This is a question about which there are numerous popular misconceptions. Written works are protected under the US Copyright laws, which prevent any copying without permission. However, the Copyright Act contains a "fair use" doctrine in 17 USC 107, which basically states that the reproduction of a copyrighted work is not an infringement if the use is for purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. Section 107 further states that in evaluating whether a use for these purposes is actually a fair use, courts should consider (1) the purpose and character of the use and whether the work is being used for commercial or non-profit educational purposes, (2) the nature of the copyrighted work, (3) the amount of the work that was copied, and (4) the effect of the copying on the market or value of the original work. The amount copied is therefore only one consideration among many, and the Copyright Act does not set any percentage rule (not 10% or any other specific number). The rules are the same whether you're copying a book, an article, sampling music, reprinting a photo, etc. Based on these rules, the fair use doctrine is extremely unpredictable, as the balance of factors can tip in different ways depending on various factors such as the type and use of the original work and the marketability of the original work. Perhaps more importantly, however, the fair use doctrine is only an affirmative defense to an infringement claim. This means that, even if a person's use of a copyrighted work is clearly a fair use, that person is still an infringer and can still get sued for copyright infringement. If that happens, the person would have to prove that his copying was a fair use in order to avoid liability. There is therefore no way to guarantee that any copying, however minimal, will be completely safe from an infringement suit. For this reason, many companies will always ask for permission to reproduce any copyrighted work, even if they genuinely believe that their use would be considered a fair use.
Answer Applies to: Virginia
Replied: 2/28/2014
Sebby Law Office
Sebby Law Office | Jayne Sebby
There is no "legal percent" that can be used from any kind of a copyrighted work. You will need to get permission from the copyright owner (who not necessarily the creator) of the material and then provide credit to that person or entity. There are some exceptions to copyright protect, usually referred to as "Fair Use." Check with an attorney experienced in copyright issues to see if any of these would apply to your project. BTW: materials created outside of the U.S. are also protected under international treaties.
Answer Applies to: Nebraska
Replied: 2/28/2014
Webb IP Law Group
Webb IP Law Group | Jason P Webb
There is no percent for anything. That is a myth.
Answer Applies to: Utah
Replied: 2/27/2014
Barton Barton & Plotkin
Barton Barton & Plotkin | Maurice Ross
You have some rather profound misconceptions about copyright law. There is no "legal percentage" of copying which is permissible. Copying from a copyrighted work (such as an on-line article) constitutes illegal copyright infringement unless it is protected by the fair use doctrine. The fair use doctrine is a very limited doctrine that incorporates First Amendment values into copyright law, and allows very limited use of copyrighted materials for purpose of journalism, education, academic criticism, commentary, and parody. Fair use is a very complicated legal analysis that inquires as to the (a) nature of the use, (b) the scope of the use, (c) the purpose of the use), (d) the percentage of copyrighted material used, and (e) the impact of the use on the market value for the copyrighted work. The final factor-impact on market value, is by far the most important. Since your use is commercial, the fair use doctrine will only be of limited use to you. Copying even a small amount of on-line articles in your skill preparation courses is likely to constitute copyright infringement. Not all educational uses are fair-for example, schools must pay for copies of text books. Likewise, if you are preparing a commercial course, you should pay for copies of articles you use. Moreover, even if you think the fair use doctrine should protect you, fair use is only a defense to claims of copyright infringement. It will not prevent you from being sued. And if you are sued, you have the burden of proving that you are entitled to a fair use defense-winning that battle often costs tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars, in legal fees. Thus, it would be quite dangerous for you to rely on a fair use defense in this situation.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 2/27/2014
Mark S. Hubert PC
Mark S. Hubert PC | Mark Hubert
The ideas are ok to use - the actual articles are copyright protected automatically in the US since 1978. There no set amount that you can use - infringement can be determined with as little as a few sentences. Seek permission - if it is for educational purposes most authors will freely grant it
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 2/27/2014
    Law Office of Kirk Buhler
    Law Office of Kirk Buhler | Kirk A Buhler
    You should either get permission from the author or create a hyperlink to the article. You can quote a small portion of the article, like a sentence, and then link to the article. There is no set percentage that can be copied without permission. Most authors will grant permission because it will increase their sales and promotion.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 2/27/2014
    Banner & Witcoff, Ltd. | Ernie Linek
    Your project may qualify as "fair use" of the work of others - but attribution should be given to all source materials. Fair Use Analysis - Transformative uses that repurpose no more of a work than is needed to make the point, or achieve the purpose, are generally fair use. Is the use you want to make of another's work transformative that is, does it add value to and repurpose the work for a new audience and is the amount of material you want to use appropriate to achieve your transformative purpose? Small amounts are generally ok. You can always provide a link to the original online articles - so your students can review the full versions.
    Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
    Replied: 2/27/2014
    Microtechnology Law & Analysis | Daniel Flamm
    There is no "blackline" answer. What you are talking about is "fair use", and this is complicated. Unfortunately, there is no single generalized answer. However the blanket statement "it is legal to use 10% of a book" is incorrect. Depending on the use, you could be liable for copyright infringement. As for ethics, that's a different subject. Ethically, if you use material that came from someone/somewhere else, you should expressly credit the source.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 2/27/2014
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