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ABC’s Westin: Don’t Let “the Free Be the Enemy of the Flow”

freeflow.gifABC News president, and Associated Press board member David Westin wrote an opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. It’s about the suit and countersuit between the AP and artist Shepard Fairey. Fairey’s artistic take of an AP-licensed photo of Barack Obama became the iconic image of Obama’s presidential campaign.

At first blush, this might seem to be merely a dispute between a large company and a single individual over money. But the principles at stake are greater than that. News organizations such as the Associated Press (and, for that matter, ABC News) invest hundreds of millions of dollars each year in gathering the news and reporting it to the public.

At ABC News, we carefully review any proposed use of others’ material in our reporting to be sure it truly qualifies as a fair use under the copyright laws. If it is not, we license the material we need to use or do without. There are also other well-established fair-use exceptions for brief uses of copyrighted materials in commentary, criticism and academic work.

It may sound nice to talk in terms of making the use of our reporting “free.” But we must not take away the means by which we obtain the information in the first place. We must not let the free be the enemy of the “flow” when it comes to the free flow of information.

By the way, we’re going to go with fair use in our excerpting of this opinion piece from The Wall Street Journal. But we’ll give it an extra link, too. As for the Westin picture, we went all Shepard Fairey with Paste‘s Obamicon.me feature.

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