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Fisking for fun and profit
Posted by David Carr
Sunday, July 18, 2004 @ 12:45 AM
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'Fisking' (for the benefit of those who might be new to the blogosphere) is the process of deconstructing someone else's work (line-by-line if necessary) in order to illustrate the errors and absurdities contained therein.

Fisking is at the 'high end' of blogging spectrum skills. It is a term that has grown out of the blogosphere and, indeed, an art that has been crafted and honed by bloggers. In order to fisk well one must fisk with a degree of aplomb and deftness without which the 'fisk' may fall on stony ground.

A well executed fisk is a joy to read but in order to fisk properly, it is necessary to copy (by 'cut and paste') sections of the (usually) on-line article that you are fisking. This is where things can get a little difficult:

Question from Lloyd Davidson, Northwestern Univ.: Robert Greenwald's new film, Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, will probably attempt to escape copyright infringement lawsuits against his use of significant excerpts from Fox's news programs by claiming that critical and satirical use of such material is protected. Whether you have seen the movie or not, do you think that such a significant use of material could ever have a chance of being protected from copyright infringement suits based on such a defense?

Wendy Seltzer:
While I haven't seen the film, I'd argue strongly in its favor as protected fair use -- whatever political angle it takes. I'd similarly defend a critic of Michael Moore's who wanted to use excerpts from Fahrenheit 9/11. So long as the excerpts are used in the process of criticism, and not merely gratuitously, they serve a purpose different from that of the original work and don't substitute for the original's commercial market. In today's multimedia environment, you can't effectively criticize newsmakers without using materials in which they may claim copyright. We need to ensure our critics have access to the same tools and technologies that their targets have.

The problem being discussed involves copyright law and the doctrine of 'fair use'.


All original work (including on-line articles) is protected by the law of copyright which means that only the owner can reproduce that work. Thus, a would-be fisker would find themselves in the position of wanting to criticise words they cannot reproduce. Very difficult.

Fortunately, a fisker can rely on the doctrine of 'fair use' which provides certain circumstances where copyright protected work can be reproduced without permission. One of these circumstances is if the reproduction is for the purposes of 'criticism or review' (and fisking is a compact combination of both disciplines).

The law in the UK is governed by the Section 30 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 which says:

Fair dealing with a work for the purpose of criticism or review, of that or another work or of a performance of a work, does not infringe any copyright in the work provided that it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.

The law is amended by the Copyright Regulation 2003 which adds the requirement for the copyright work to have been made available to the public.

So, if you want to fisk somebody else's article, go right ahead. Just make sure:

  1. That the article has been made available to the public (and being put on-line counts as that)
  2. You acknowledge the copyright owner.
  3. It may also do not to reproduce too much of any copyright article or piece but only just enough to enable you to get your crucial points across.

    So, I say unto ye, go forth and fisk.



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