Copyright infringement or fair use meme

sixteenbynine posted this meme in his LJ:

    1. Grab the nearest book.
    2. Open the book to page 123.
    3. Find the fifth sentence.
    4. Post the text of the next 4-7 sentences on your LJ along with these instructions.
    5. Don’t you dare dig for that “cool” or “intellectual” book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest (unless it’s too troublesome to reach and is really heavy. Then go back to step 1).
    6. Tag five people. (You want it, take it!)

The book that happened to be on my desk right now:

Lutheranism (ISBN 0-8006-1246-9)
Eric W. Gritsch and Robert W. Jenson

On p. 123, sentences 5-8:

“[…] This mutual dependence of the gatherings will find organizational expression in some form or other; as it does, some ministers will acquire responsibilities that transcend the separate congregations. A chart of the ministers’ organization will look like a pyramid: there will be a “hierarchy.” Occasionally various branches of Protestantism have tried to deny these necessities, in the name of spiritual equality before God, but never with success in practice. Again, the sort of hierarchy the ministry has is historically variable; and Lutheranism affirms the variation.”

I’m not a big propagator of Internet memes, but this one was interesting to me–not because of its outcome, but because of what it was asking participants to do. Essentially, it’s asking people to tread the fine line between copyright infringement and fair use. This is a clever meme to make a whole bunch of copyright-protected literature appear in search engine results as people begin to post fragments of books in places that are likely to get spidered by search engines. Is this truly considered fair use?

My limited understanding of copyright law and fair use suggests that it’s not–but, I’m not so sure. The four factors serve as a guide to identify when it may be necessary for one to copy another’s copyrighted work as part of one’s original work for the purpose of illustration or parody. The reproduction of copyrighted material suggested by this meme doesn’t serve this purpose. Granted, if a work is over 122 pages long, a few sentences from the 123rd page cannot be considered a substantial portion of the work and should have a negligible effect on the work’s potential market.

I’d love to hear opinions of what actual lawyers and others knowledgeable about this subject think of this, like Lawrence Lessig or Cory Doctorow, or one of the Copyfight bloggers. Are participants of this meme exercising fair use, or are they violating copyright law?

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