An author wants to include a quote in their book taken from a tweet posted on a fandom page for a band. The origin of the tweet is unknown as it is on a fan account, there is no graphic, and it will help underline a point the author is trying to make about the band in their book. Is it ok to include? Enter the complexities and guidelines surrounding fair use for social media content in books.
It’s a murky area, and each scenario shared by the panel during this AUPresses 2022 session was different from the next, but one thing was clear, the process of sorting it all out begins with the author.
“Having authors know that from the beginning they should be thinking about fair use and permissions is important,” shared Angelica Lopez-Torres from University of Texas Press. Sharing existing guidelines with authors and ensuring that fair use permissions from them are received prior to a project reach the permissions team at a press can help to streamline a project’s workflow. It’s also important to distinguish between fair use and reproduction use. Sometimes an author provides a low-res screen grab of an image and to ensure the best reproduction you need to obtain a high-res copy of the image. When doing so, you need to follow reproduction guidelines.
Kerin Ogg from Duke University Press uses a permissions and art log for every journal and book. Authors are the ones that need to obtain permissions, and so they are asked to fill in the basic information on a log that the permissions team then reviews. Being a “fair use first” press, Duke encourages authors to consider fair use first and to seek permission as a last resort, not as a first step. She does caution that “Fair use is not a get out of copyright free card,” and should be used on a case-by-case basis. To date, Duke has not had an issue with an artist having their work used without permission, but rather the issues that come up are more related to the author misinterpreting the artist’s work.
Not surprisingly, fair use surrounding social media is only a part of the puzzle. Many of the social media fair use cases that Clara Totten from Georgetown University Press sees are in textbooks, specifically language textbooks. “Social media posts are often submitted as screen shots in languages we don’t read, and posts can come from countries with very different copyright laws and ideas of intellectual property,” shared Clara. She educates authors on how to take good screen shots, and to record when, where, and how they took it in case the post disappears. If possible, authors are asked to provide the post text itself in an editable format so that the compositor can typeset it. This helps make the content accessible. She also coaches authors to not seek permission unless they need to, as many times the author may not seek the right type of permission.
While every fair use scenario is different, there are resources the panelists shared that can help guide you:
- Social Media Reproduction Supplement – https://aupresses.org/permissions-faq/ (download PDF at bottom of page)
- Stanford University Press Fair Use Guidelines – https://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/
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