In class the other day we reviewed fair use. Its interpretation to the internet is quickly evolving, but I want to communicate some basic points because many bloggers in particular do not realize that they violate its provisions. Note: this post is not intended to be, and does not replace the need for, legal advice.

1. The Definition of Fair Use:

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, it is section 107 of the copyright law, which stipulates “various purposes when reproduction of a work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.”

2. It Considers Four Factors:

  1. Circumstances. I.e. nonprofit educational purposes are more likely to qualify as fair use than commercial uses.
  2. Nature. I.e. facts are more commonly interpreted as fair use than fiction.
  3. Percentage of Use. I.e. using less material reduces chances of breaching fair use.
  4. Impact on Original Work. I.e. the less the work infringes upon the original’s economic value, the less subject it is to a lawsuit.

3. Keep In Mind:

The scope of fair use is changing, and there are also other legal issues surrounding reproducing work, so do not assume that because your situation seems to weigh in favor that a court would agree.

4. The Best Solution:

Whenever in doubt, give the owner a shout. That’s right: crediting someone is not enough. So rather than potentially stirring problems—especially to the person who’s work you probably appreciate, ask for reproduction permission. He or she will usually be flattered for the offer and accept your request. If not, then when applicable consider linking to the site or making a recommendation of another place to access the work.

THERE IS MUCH MORE TO FAIR USE ! Please read on at places like What Is Fair Use, University of Texas’ Fair Use of Copyrighted Materials, and Stanford’s Fair Use Blog.

HAVE YOU BEEN INVOLVED IN A CASE OR DO YOU HAVE A RELATED STORY?  Please share it below—the more we know about past cases the more we can possibly stay clear. (Although because the court has ruled one way does not mean it always will.)

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