What is a “quotation”?

I'm not sure what copyright exception I'm relying on for this image...

I’m not sure what copyright exception I’m relying on for this image…

The title to this post may sound a bit “meta” – like Bill Clinton asking what the meaning of the word “is” is. However, it’s prompted by the impending changes in UK copyright law, which (from tomorrow) will include new exceptions for quotation, parody and private copying.

The parody and private copying exceptions have been widely discussed, but the quotation exception may also have a significant impact. The exception states:

Copyright in a work is not infringed by the use of a quotation from the work (whether for criticism or review or otherwise) provided that—

(a)  the work has been made available to the public,

(b)  the use of the quotation is fair dealing with the work,

(c)  the extent of the quotation is no more than is required by the specific purpose for which it is used, and

(d)  the quotation is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement (unless this would be impossible for reasons of practicality or otherwise).

But what is a “quotation”? Specifically, how does a quotation differ from any extract or excerpt from a larger work? Is the result of this exception to say, in effect, “anything goes, provided it’s fair dealing”? (Fair use by the back door…?)

My instinctive response is “no”, but I’m not sure where you would draw the line between a “quotation” and an “excerpt”. It’s notable that the corresponding permitted exception in the Copyright Directive (on which the UK exception is founded) covers:

quotations for purposes such as criticism or review, provided that they relate to a work or other subject-matter which has already been lawfully made available to the public, that, unless this turns out to be impossible, the source, including the author’s name, is indicated, and that their use is in accordance with fair practice, and to the extent required by the specific purpose.

In other words, “quotation” is not some new category of usage. It is no more and no less than the sort of usage that is covered by the existing “criticism or review” exception – except that it can now be done for purposes other than criticism or review. (The UK government’s guidance, quoted here, confirms this as the intention of the regulations.)

Which does imply that “quotation” can be quite broad: not just text, but potentially encompassing the “quotation” of photographs, video clips, music, and so on – though subject, it should be emphasised, to the “fair dealing” and “minimum extent” requirements (paragraphs (b) and (c) as set out above). But does this mean that any excerpt or reproduction could potentially be defended as a “quotation”?

It seems to me that the difference between a “quotation” and an “excerpt” or “reproduction” lies in the purpose for which it is used. An excerpt or reproduction can be merely “decorative” – library footage used as background to a TV news report, for example. A quotation, however, needs to be in some way pertinent to the context in which it is quoted. Its use needs to be making a point, or at least confirming or illustrating a point made by the work in which it quoted.

However, all this is (hopefully reasonably educated) guesswork. If anyone has come across any more compelling authority (e.g. from other EU member states) on what a “quotation” is, please feel free to post details in the comments to this post.

Update (1 October) 

Emily Goodhand (a.k.a. @copyrightgirl) has pointed me in the direction of the CJEU’s decision in the Painer case, in which the court considered the quotation exception in some detail (see paras 118ff.).

In para 120, the court describes the purpose of the exception as follows:

That provision is intended thus to preclude the exclusive right of reproduction conferred on authors from preventing the publication, by means of quotation accompanied by comments or criticism, of extracts from a work already available to the public.

This seems to confirm my earlier guesswork. Note the court’s insistence that a quotation be “accompanied by comments or criticism” – that is, even though the quotation needn’t be specifically for “criticism or review”, it must still have some supporting context (“comments”). I think we can take it as read that there must be some connection between the comments and the quoted work, rather than a mere juxtaposition.

The CJEU added that there is a need to strike “a fair balance” between “the right of freedom of expression of users of a work” and the reproduction right of the work’s author – and that, in the case of quotation, users’ freedom of expression should have priority. This suggests a wider, rather than narrower, interpretation of the exception.

It will still be interesting to see where the courts draw the line in practice – especially as authors start to push the boundaries of how they can use existing material in their own work.

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