In both cases, they may be within the realm of the "right to quote"
(I am not sure this concept exists in US law per se)
or "fair use".
I haven't checked the accuracy of the "Right to quote" Wikipedia article
you referenced, but I will note here that it mentions the following
- the cited paragraphs are within a reasonable limit (varying from
country to country),
- clearly marked as quotations
- the resulting new work is not just a collection of quotations, but
constitutes a fully original work in itself.
Assuming for the moment that the information in the Wikipedia article is
sound, I don't think the first requirement is met: we are talking about
potentially millions of words reproduced from Wikipedia without
attribution. The second one is clearly not met either. The third one is
debatable, but I would lean towards the opinion that the entire body of
Alexa's output is not a "fully original work in itself" if its answers draw
substantially on Wikipedia.
The Wikipedia article's lead further mentions that the making of quotations
has to be "compatible with fair practice, and their extent does not exceed
that justified by the purpose".
The Amazon Echo is a commercial product sold for the company's
(considerable) profit. The information "Alexa" provides is a substantial
part of the product's value to the customer. It's the main selling point.
This kind of commercial purpose is completely different from the making of
quotations in the context of critical reviews, parodies and so on, which in
no way attempt to *replace* the source quoted from, but instead exist to
provide a sort of commentary on it.
My understanding is that this latter kind of purpose is the kind of purpose
"fair use" is meant to support.
You say that
Alexa reportedly gets some of this from Bing. But even if
that's the case, how does it make a difference? To me it seems rather
It may totally make a difference. I am not a lawyer, but I think the
question about the copyright status of search snippets and indexes for
search engines has already been addressed by jurisprudence.
Surely, the difference with search snippets is that such snippets, by the
very nature of things, include a link to the original. That is their
purpose. And this has a direct bearing on all of the CC licence
requirements quoted earlier. In other words, by following the link provided
in the search result, readers can view the original work the snippet is
taken from, identify its title, its authors, its copyright status and the
precise licence under which the material is published.
None of that is possible with Alexa. Alexa's use of Wikipedia, where things
literally come out of a black box, with the listener uninformed as to their
origin, is substantially different, and indeed competitive to Wikipedia
Simply put, the amount of text used changes the
situation from "right to
quote"/"fair use" to "derivative work".
Derivative works, of course, have to be published under the same licence.
Furthermore, to correctly cite Wikipedia, if snippets
would not be
considered under fair use/right to quote, they would need to also cite
See above – search snippets contain a link to the original. This might be
considered "reasonable" in the context of a search engine, given space
limitations, usability considerations etc.
To be sure, in the case of the Amazon Echo, I don't think it would be
"reasonable" to expect "Alexa" to recite the complete text of the CC
licence, along with the names of all contributors who had worked on the
material included, etc. The medium is a material factor here. But Amazon
appears to proceed on the assumption that it is "reasonable" to
any attribution whatsoever* in their delivery medium.
In this regard, compare the difference -
- between the snippets (both from Google and Bing), which do not have a
license indication and the extensive portion of text which is displayed
in the box in Bing which correctly indicates both the link to the
original work and the license. Interestingly, in the case of the FBI,
the box in Bing has less text and no indication of the license. It may
be that they automatically decide that if they are going to show more
than N words/characters then they do not treat the text as a quotation
but as a derivative work and so they show the license.
I tried with another couple searches and this behavior seems
consistent. If they shw a short chunk of text (~ 1 sentence), they do
not provide the source and link to the license. If they show a big chunk
of text (with a "+" sign) they do.
Interesting, thank you.
The Wikimedia Foundation could ask for a clarification
to Amazon, but I
suspect that the answer would not differ very much from above.
A clarification and examination of Amazon's reasoning would indeed be
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