Basic Copyright Law: What is a fair use?

A fair use is any copying of copyrighted material for a limited and “transformative” purpose such as to comment upon, criticize or parody a copyrighted work.  This type of use is allowed without permission from the copyright owner. If your use qualifies under the definition above, then your use would not be considered an illegal infringement.

So the million-dollar question is what is “transformative” use? Mind you that millions of dollars in legal fees have been spent in order to define what qualifies as a fair use. Courts vary in their decisions with respect to what defines fair use and only general definitions exit. Basically, judges and lawmakers who created the fair use exception wanted it–like free speech–to have a broad meaning that could be open to interpretation.

Most fair use analysis has been in two categories:

1. Parody

A parody is a work that ridicules a generally well-known work, by imitating it in satirical fashion. Unlike other forms of fair use, a fairly extensive use of the original work is permitted in parody because by its nature it demands some taking from the original work.

2. Comment and Criticism

If you are commenting upon or critiquing a copyrighted work, fair use allows you to reproduce some of the work to achieve your purposes. Examples of fair use include commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. The public policy behind this principle is that the public benefits from your review.

Article by Dorisa Shahmirzai, Esq. Founder of IP Law Click

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