For this year’s Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week, MediaWell is partnering with the Association of Research Libraries to interview experts reflecting on how fair use supports research, journalism, and truth. This is the fourth and final installment of MediaWell’s four-part series, entitled “Two Questions on Fair Use.” In this interview, we ask Nabiha Syed, president of The Markup, about how the problem of misinformation requires discretion from people looking to exercise fair use, and how fair use supports people who share information independently.
Can fair use help combat misinformation on social media?
One of the things I love about fair use is that it creates this carve out from a copyright infrastructure that otherwise could pose a lot of downstream restrictions for a creator or a commentator or a person engaging in a critique. That’s the reason why Justice Ginsburg said that fair use doctrine was a built-in free speech safeguard. We want to engage with cultural conversation, with topics of great public interest, and we want to be able to point to them and say, “I’m not sure I agree with that,” or “there’s a detail that’s missing here, or “let me tell you about how my research really supports this in a way that might be counterintuitive.”
What’s tricky about misinformation is that while you can say, “Let me take snippets of the misinformation and rebut it or debunk it, or fact check it,” fair use permits you to do that. But there’s an open question about whether the psychological research actually supports that as a good thing to do.
Fair use clears the way for us to be able to say, “Okay, here is a rumor that’s spreading about how JFK Jr. is going to come back and turn Donald Trump into the president,” which I think was circulating a couple months ago. We can take that snippet because fair use allows us to, and have that clip or take that quote and comment on it, which is all well and good and should happen. But in a journalistic environment, do we want to be recirculating it? Do we want to be amplifying it? These are a really interesting set of questions. I’m not sure it’s the right tactic, but I’m glad that fair use at least gives us the chance to engage.
For researchers who are working on a different time horizon than journalists, the ability to really dig in, to create a historical record of this kind of misinformation, to document how it flows, that wouldn’t be possible without fair use. For that use case, I think it’s tremendously necessary to document this strange time that we’re in, and the many flavors of misinformation. But for the news journalistic context that I operate in, I worry a little bit about just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.Read More›