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This is not a concern when a science reporter, say, is quoting language from a new scientific paper.

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Jim Schachter, vice president for news at WNYC in New York and a former editor at the Wall Street Journal, is one of them. “You have asked the world’s most complicated question,” he said.“That’s really easy,” said, “You can use as much info as you need in order to tell a story, but no more than that.It might be 10 words, it might be 50 words, it might be longer.” But to many science writers and other journalists, it doesn’t seem nearly that easy.The college told Johnson it would grant permission to use the drawing in return for a copy of Johnson’s book; plus a “facility fee” of £200 — about $400 at the time.Johnson already had a high-resolution copy of the drawing that he’d found on the web.Johnson wanted to include a drawing of the experiment from Newton’s journal, in Newton’s own hand.

“Considering that the experiment was done in the 17th century, you might assume that it was in the public domain and I could use it,” Johnson told me. What he didn’t foresee was that the journal in which the drawing appears is owned by New College, at the University of Oxford., and that he would have to pay Oxford for the drawing.

That’s especially true for podcasters, who are concerned about how copyright applies to that relatively new medium.

The trouble is that questions about fair use arise on a case-by-case basis. You find out only when a copyright holder sues you for use, and a court makes a ruling (or the case is settled out of court).

Kate Dries, the managing editor of the website Jezebel, found that out rather dramatically last November. “I’m very concerned about making sure I don’t rip anyone off,” she said.

In February 2012 she began producing At the time, she worked at the Chicago public radio station WBEZ, where “we would mix segments or episodes of work I was doing there with fair-use music all the time,” she told me. “We’re all just trying to figure it out and do the best we can.” ?

, the science writer George Johnson was wrapping up work on his book “The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments” and looking for illustrations to accompany the text.