Fair use of copyright is a doctrine in the United States that allows limited use of copyrighted material without needing to acquire permission from the copyright holder. In other words, fair use is used as a defense against copyright infringement since it is considered a legal use of copyrighted material.
Common fair uses of copyrighted material include criticism, commentary, research and news reporting.
According to the United States Copyright Act, the court must consider the four following factors while evaluating a fair use of copyright:
Fair use of copyrighted material must be done for a “transformative” purpose. Simply put, transformative uses add something new to the copyrighted material and do not substitute the original use of the work.
Fairness is more likely to prevail if material is derived from primarily factual works rather than purely fictional ones, since the purpose of a copyright is to encourage creative expression.
If the use contains large portions of the original copyrighted material, it is less likely to be deemed fair use. Nonetheless, using even small amounts can be considered unfair if it uses the “heart” of the copyrighted material.
If the use of copyrighted material is likely to harm the copyright owner’s ability to profit from his or her original work, it is less likely to serve as fair use.
Moreover, some argue that the court uses a fifth factor that is not included in the law to decide whether or not fair use applies to a case. This fifth factor occurs when the judge uses his or her own beliefs and opinions to make a decision regarding fair use of copyright. Therefore, the exact formula for determining what constitutes fair use is difficult to determine since each case is evaluated individually.
Although fair use is generally decided on a case by case basis, the following uses are typically accepted as fair:
Figuring out what exactly constitutes fair use can seem complicated, but it is crucial in order to prevent copyright infringement issues. If you need advice when it comes to determining whether you can apply the fair use doctrine to your specific case, speak to one of our experienced intellectual property attorneys as soon as possible.