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Friday, January 18, 2013

Winston Churchill, Fair Use, and the UK

The third volume of William Manchester's magisterial biography of Winston Churchill (The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm) was released last Fall. Manchester died in 2004, and although he is credited with writing the final volume, most of the writing of the final volume was actually done by Paul Reid. I have yet to read the final volume, but if it's anything like the first two, it will be chock full of quotes from Churchill's speeches, letters, books (he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953), and witty repartees (he could be hilarious). If so, Reid (and I assume Manchester's estate) paid a lot of $s (well, actually £s) to get the rights to include Churchill's words in the book. That's because the UK's fair use laws differ substantially from those in the US. More specifically, in the US, authors can quote the works of other authors for free (up to a certain extent -- you can't quote an entire book, for example), but you can't in the UK, as the author Barry Singer recently discovered when he was in the process of publishing a book on Winston Churchill ("Churchill Style: The Art of Being Winston Churchill"):
"I used 3,872 words of Winston Churchill’s in the book. And that cost me £950, which is roughly 40 cents a word."
The UK's fair use laws don't only apply to Churchill's estate; indeed, it is so restrictive, Sergey Brinand Larry Page, the founders of Google, told Rohan Silva, senior policy advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron, that they probably wouldn't have been able to start Google in the UK because of how its fair use laws would restrict Google search algorithm.

All of this is the topic of the latest Freakonomics podcast ("Who Owns the Words That Come Out of Your Mouth?"), which as always can be heard at the Freakonomics website or downloaded from iTunes. It is hosted by Stephen Dubner and includes conversations with Barry Singer, Rohan Silva, and  Dubner's co-author Steven Levitt, who (as most of you know) is an economist at U of Chicago. A brief summary of the podcast can be found here: "Who Owns the Words That Come Out of Your Mouth?"

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