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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

frequently asinine questions: “Can I reprint your reviews for free?”

Time for a new feature, one that dares to answer publicly all the questions I get all the time in email and that I answer again and again in private. Plus, they make my blood boil, and why shouldn’t you all share my pain?

Here’s one that landed in my in-box this morning. The wording of it was a little different than similar emails I’ve seen before, enough so that it made my jaw drop in astonishment:

I am looking for a critic to feature in a new local art/entertainment paper I’m thinking of starting. I need a little insight on the publication of a critic’s reviews. Do I need permission from the critic? Can I publish any reviews that I find? What steps do I need to take in order to publish someone elses reviews?

Oh dear. Yes, of course you need permission to use the creative work of anyone — writer, artist, photographer, fontographer, graphic designer, programmer, whatever — unless that person has specifically waived those rights (as via a Creative Commons license, which is just granting permission in advance anyway). No, of course you cannot just take material that you find on the Net (or wherever) and do whatever you like with it.

That’s called theft.

What shocked me about this email was that while I do frequently get requests to reprint or repost my reviews, it’s only after a few go-rounds by email that it becomes clear that the person asking to do this has no intention of paying, and is indeed shocked at the idea that I would not be absolutely delighted to simply give away my work. But I’d never before been faced with the upfront suggestion that the product of a writer might up for grabs by anyone to do anything with it he or she pleased.

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