The most common defense to allegations of copyright infringement is that the alleged infringer made a "fair use" of the work. The fair use defense, however, is relatively narrow and much misunderstood by the public.
The owner of a copyright has the right to reproduce or to authorize others to reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords. The owner's right, however, is subject to the doctrine of “fair use.” 17 U.S.C. § 107.
Section 107 of the Copyright Act contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:
The distinction between “fair use” and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.
The following are examples of activities that courts have found to be fair use:
Copyright protects the particular way an author expressed himself; it does not extend to ideas, systems, or factual information conveyed in the work. The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. If you cannot obtain permission, you should not use copyrighted material unless you are sure “fair use” would apply to your use. If you have any doubt, consult a copyright attorney.
This page was last modified on July 22, 2007.
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