MIT Press takes gutsy fair use stand

MIT Press sought to clear one-line excerpts from twelve songs that are quoted in a forthcoming novel. Faced with ten forms that had to filled out before proceeding, one demand of $10,000, and a flat refusal, they decided to hell with it, one-line excerpts are fair goddamned use, and decided to just print 'em. Lessig points out that risk-averse publishers try to minimize their lawyer-hours by essentially publishing no fair-use material, and MIT's doing the right thing here could very well loosen up some of that fearful tightness.

That is rare in this business. Publishers are among the most conservative "fair users" – not because they don't believe in free speech, but because they understand the burden of non-free lawyers. If a lawsuit is filed against a publisher for copyright infringement, the cost of answering the complaint can suck up the total profit from the book. Thus, however generous the Supreme Court thinks it is when it defends "fair use," the relevant "fair use" is the freedom publishers permit.

It is a great thing that publishers like MIT can help set the standard. The law should make it easier for others to do the same.