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What is a 'Fair Use' claim?

As with most other aspects of the law, there are exceptions to the protections offered by Intellectual Property law. One of the most common defenses to a charge of Copyright Infringement is that the accused party had the right to “Fair Use.”

The Fair Use Doctrine allows a party that does not own the Copyright to a work to nevertheless use portions of that work, without having to get permission from the Copyright holder first.

Federal Copyright Law does not provide a strict formula for determining whether a use of Copyrighted work was Fair Use or not. But in general, the following uses are not considered Copyright Infringement:

  • Criticism and commentary.
  • News reporting.
  • Educational purposes, such as making copies for use in a classroom.
  • Scholarship and research.
  • Parody.

The test laid out under the Copyright Act has four factors to consider when a court must decide if Fair Use applies:

  • The purpose and nature of the use, such as whether it is for commercial purposes.
  • The nature of the Copyrighted work.
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used.
  • The effect the use had on the potential market or value of the original work.

Courts tend to decide these disputes on a case-by-case basis. The U.S. Supreme Court just handed Google a big victory when it declined to hear a Copyright Infringement claim made against it by authors of books partially available to read in Google Books. That means a lower court decision in Google’s favor will stand. A group called Copyright Alliance, which opposed Google, said the decision “dramatically expands” the Fair Use Doctrine.

The Fair Use Doctrine is just one reason that enforcing a Copyright can be complicated. Having a knowledgeable Intellectual Property attorney can make a huge difference.

Source: The Washington Post, “Google Books just won a decade-long copyright fight,” Andrea Peterson, Apr. 18, 2016

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