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fair use

One of the rights accorded to the owner of copyright is the right to reproduce or to authorize others to reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords. This right is subject to certain limitations found in sections 107 through 118 of the copyright act (title 17, U.S. Code). One of the more important limitations is the doctrine of “fair use.” Although fair use was not mentioned in the previous copyright law, the doctrine has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years. This doctrine has been codified in section 107 of the copyright law.

Section 107 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:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

  3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

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 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”

Copyright protects the particular way an author has expressed himself; it does not extend to any 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. The Copyright Office cannot give this permission.

When it is impracticable to obtain permission, use of copyrighted material should be avoided unless the doctrine of “fair use” would clearly apply to the situation. The Copyright Office can neither determine if a certain use may be considered “fair” nor advise on possible copyright violations. If there is any doubt, it is advisable to consult an attorney.

FL-102, Revised December 2005

Fair use is a copyright principle based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials forpurposes of commentary and criticism. For example, if you wish to criticize a novelist, you should have the freedom to quote a portion of the novelist's work without asking permission. Absent this freedom, copyright owners could stifle any negative comments about their work.

Unfortunately, if the copyright owner disagrees with your fair use interpretation, the dispute will have to be resolved by courts or arbitration. If it's not a fair use, then you are infringing upon the rights of the copyright owner and may be liable for damages.

The only guidance is provided by a set of fair use factors outlined in the copyright law. These factors are weighed in each case to determine whether a use qualifies as a fair use. For example, one important factor is whether your use will deprive the copyright owner of income. Unfortunately, weighing the fair use factors is often quite subjective. For this reason, the fair use road map is often tricky to navigate.

A. What Is Fair Use?

In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and "transformative" purpose such as to comment upon, criticize or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. Another way of putting this is that fair use is a defense against infringement. If your use qualifies under the definition above, and as defined more specifically later in this chapter, then your use would not be considered an illegal infringement.

So what is a "transformative" use? If this definition seems ambiguous or vague, be aware that millions of dollars in legal fees have been spent attempting to define what qualifies as a fair use. There are no hard-and-fast rules, only general rules and varying court decisions. That's because the judges and lawmakers who created the fair use exception did not want to limit the definition of fair use. They wanted it--like free speech--to have an expansive meaning that could be open to interpretation.

Most fair use analysis falls into two categories: commentary and criticism; or parody.

Comment and Criticism

If you are commenting upon or critiquing a copyrighted work--for instance, writing a book review -- fair use principles allow you to reproduce some of the work to achieve your purposes. Some examples of commentary and criticism include:

  • quoting a few lines from a Bob Dylan song in a music review
  • summarizing and quoting from a medical article on prostate cancer in a news report
  • copying a few paragraphs from a news article for use by a teacher or student in a lesson, or
  • copying a portion of a Sports Illustrated magazine article for use in a related court case.

The underlying rationale of this rule is that the public benefits from your review, which is enhanced by including some of the copyrighted material. Additional examples of commentary or criticism are provided in the examples of fair use cases in Section C.

Parody

A parody is a work that ridicules another, usually well-known work, by imitating it in a comic way. Judges understand that by its nature, parody demands some taking from the original work being parodied. Unlike other forms of fair use, a fairly extensive use of the original work is permitted in a parody in order to "conjure up" the original.

The best method of understanding the flexible principle of fair use is to review actual cases decided by the courts. Below are summaries of a series of fair use cases.

Cases Involving Text

  • Not a fair use. An author copied more than half of an unpublished manuscript to prove that someone was involved in the overthrow of the Iranian government. Important factors: A substantial portion was taken (half of the work) and the work had not yet been published. (Love v. Kwitny, 772 F. Supp. 1367 (S.D. N.Y. 1989).)
  • Fair use. A biographer of Richard Wright quoted from six unpublished letters and ten unpublished journal entries by Wright. Important factors: No more than 1% of Wright's unpublished letters were copied and the purpose was informational. ( Wright v. Warner Books, Inc., 953 F.2d 731 (2d Cir. 1991).)
  • Not a fair use. A biographer paraphrased large portions of unpublished letters written by the famed author J.D. Salinger. Although people could read these letters at a university library, Salinger had never authorized their reproduction. In other words, the first time that the general public would see these letters was in their paraphrased form in the biography. Salinger successfully sued to prevent publication. Important factors: The letters were unpublished and were the "backbone" of the biography--so much so that without the letters the resulting biography was unsuccessful. In other words, the letters may have been taken more as a means of capitalizing on the interest in Salinger than in providing a critical study of the author. ( Salinger v. Random House, 811 F.2d 90 (2d Cir. 1987).)
  • Not a fair use. The Nation magazine published excerpts from ex-President Gerald Ford's unpublished memoirs. The publication in The Nation was made several weeks prior to the date of serialization of Mr. Ford's book in another magazine. Important factors: The Nation's copying seriously damaged the marketability of Mr. Ford 's serialization rights. (Harper & Row v. Nation Enters., 471 U.S. 539 (1985).)
  • Not a fair use. A company published a book entitled Welcome to Twin Peaks: A Complete Guide to Who's Who and What's What, containing direct quotations and paraphrases from the television show "Twin Peaks" as well as detailed descriptions of plot, character and setting. Important factors: The amount of the material taken was substantial and the publication adversely affected the potential market for authorized books about the program. (Twin Peaks v. Publications Int'l, Ltd. 996 F.2d 1366 (2d Cir. 1993).)
  • Not a fair use. A company published a book of trivia questions about the events and characters of the "Seinfeld" television series. The book included questions based upon events and characters in 84 "Seinfeld" episodes and used actual dialogue from the show in 41 of the book's questions. Important factors: As in the "Twin Peaks" case, the book affected the owner's right to make derivative "Seinfeld" works such as trivia books. ( Castle Rock Entertainment, Inc. v. Carol Publ. Group, 150 F.3d 132 (2d Cir. 1998).)
  • Fair use. Publisher Larry Flynt made disparaging statements about the Reverend Jerry Falwell on one page of Hustler magazine. Rev. Falwell made several hundred thousand copies of the page and distributed them as part of a fund-raising effort. Important factors: Rev. Falwell's copying did not diminish the sales of the magazine (since it was already off the market) and would not adversely affect the marketability of back issues. (Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Moral Majority, Inc., 606 F. Supp. 1526 (C.D. Cal. 1985).)

Artwork and Audiovisual Cases

  • Not a fair use. A television news program copied one minute and 15 seconds from a 72-minute Charlie Chaplin film and used it in a news report about Chaplin's death. Important factors: The court felt that the portions taken were substantial and part of the "heart" of the film. (Roy Export Co. Estab. of Vaduz v. Columbia Broadcasting Sys., Inc. , 672 F.2d 1095, 1100 (2d Cir. 1982).)
  • Fair use. The makers of a movie biography of Muhammad Ali used 41 seconds from a boxing match film in their biography. Important factors: A small portion of film was taken and the purpose was informational. (Monster Communications, Inc. v. Turner Broadcasting Sys. Inc., 935 F. Supp. 490 (S.D. N.Y. 1996).)
  • Not a fair use. A television station's news broadcast used 30 seconds from a fourminute copyrighted videotape of the 1992 Los Angeles beating of Reginald Denny. Important factors: The use was commercial, took the heart of the work and affected the copyright owner's ability to market the video. ( Los Angeles News Service v. KCAL-TV Channel 9, 108 F.3d 1119 (9th Cir. 1997).)
  • Fair use. In a lawsuit commonly known as the Betamax case, the Supreme Court determined that the home videotaping of a television broadcast was a fair use. This was one of the few occasions when copying a complete work (for example, a complete episode of the "Kojak" television show) was accepted as a fair use. Evidence indicated that most viewers were "time-shifting" (taping in order to watch later) and not "library-building" (collecting the videos in order to build a video library). Important factors: The Supreme Court reasoned that the "delayed" system of viewing did not deprive the copyright owners of revenue. (Universal City Studios v. Sony Corp., 464 U.S. 417 (1984).)
  • Not a fair use. A poster of a "church quilt" was used in the background of a television series for 27 seconds. Important factors: The court was influenced by the prominence of the poster, its thematic importance for the set decoration of a church and the fact that it was a conventional practice to license such works for use in television programs. (Ringgold v. Black Entertainment Television, Inc., 126 F.3d 70 (2d Cir. 1997).)
  • Fair Use. A search engine’s practice of creating small reproductions (“thumbnails”) of images and placing them on its own website (known as “inlining”) did not undermine the potential market for the sale or licensing of those images. Important Factors. The thumbnails were much smaller and of much poorer quality than the original photos and served to index the images and help the public access them. (Kelly v. Arriba-Soft, 03 C.D.O.S. 5888 (9th Cir. 2003).)

Internet Cases

  • Not a fair use. Entire publications of the Church of Scientology were posted on the Internet by several individuals without Church permission. Important factors: Fair use is intended to permit the borrowing of portions of a work, not complete works. (Religious Technology Center v. Lerma, 40 U.S.P.Q. 2d 1569 (E.D. Va. 1996).)
  • Fair use. The Washington Post used three brief quotations from Church of Scientology texts posted on the Internet (see previous case). Important factors: Only a small portion of the work was excerpted and the purpose was for news commentary. ( Religious Technology Center v. Pagliarina, 908 F. Supp 1353 (E.D. Va. 1995).)

Music Cases

  • Fair use. A person running for political office used 15 seconds of his opponent's campaign song in a political ad. Important factors: A small portion of the song was used and the purpose was for purposes of political debate. (Keep Thomson Governor Comm. v. Citizens for Gallen Comm., 457 F. Supp. 957 (D. N.H. 1978).)
  • Fair use. A television film crew, covering an Italian festival in Manhattan, recorded a band playing a portion of a copyrighted song "Dove sta Zaza." The music was replayed during a news broadcast. Important factors: Only a portion of the song was used, it was incidental to the news event and did not result in any actual damage to the composer or to the market for the work. ( Italian Book Corp, v. American Broadcasting Co., 458 F. Supp. 65 (S.D. N.Y. 1978).)

Summaries of Parody Cases

  • Fair use. The rap group 2 Live Crew borrowed the opening musical tag and the words (but not the melody) from the first line of the song "Pretty Woman" ("Oh, pretty woman, walking down the street "). The rest of the lyrics and the music were different. Important factors: The group's use was transformative and borrowed only a small portion of the "Pretty Woman" song. The 2 Live Crew version was essentially a different piece of music and the only similarity was a brief musical opening part and the opening line. (Note: The rap group had initially sought to pay for the right to use portions of the song but were rebuffed by the publisher who did not want "Pretty Woman" used in a rap song.) (Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569 (1994).)
  • Fair use. The composers of the song, "When Sunny Gets Blue," claimed that their song was infringed by "When Sonny Sniffs Glue, " a 29second parody that altered the original lyric line and borrowed six bars of the song. A court determined this parody was excused as a fair use. Important factors: Only 29 seconds of music were borrowed (not the complete song ). (Fisher v. Dees, 794 F.2d 432 (9th Cir. 1986).) (Note: As a general rule, parodying more than a few lines of a song lyric is unlikely to be excused as a fair use. Performers such as Weird Al Yankovic, who earn a living by humorously modifying hit songs, seek permission of the songwriters before recording their parodies.)
  • Fair use. Comedians on the late-night television show "Saturday Night Live" parodied the song "I Love New York" using the words "I Love Sodom." Only the words "I Love" and four musical notes were taken from the original work. Important factors: The "Saturday Night Live" version of the jingle did not compete with or detract from the original song. (Elsmere Music, Inc. v. National Broadcasting Co., 482 F. Supp. 741 (S.D. N.Y.), aff'd 632 F.2d 252 (2d Cir. 1980).)
  • Not a fair use. An author mimicked the style of a Dr. Seuss book while re-telling the facts of the O.J. Simpson murder trial in The Cat NOT in the Hat! A Parody by Dr. Juice. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the book was a satire, not a parody, because the book did not poke fun at or ridicule Dr. Seuss. Instead, it merely used the Dr. Seuss characters and style to tell the story of the murder. Important factors: The author's work was nontransformative and commercial. (Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. v. Penguin Books USA, Inc., 109 F.3d 1394 (9th Cir. 1997).)
  • Fair use. A movie company used a photo of a naked pregnant woman and superimposed the head of actor Leslie Nielsen. The photo was a parody using similar lighting and body positioning of a famous photograph taken by Annie Leibovitz of the actress Demi Moore for the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Important factors: The movie company's use was transformative because it imitated the photographer's style for comic effect or ridicule. (Leibovitz v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 137 F.3d 109 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1998).)
  • Not a fair use. An artist created a cover for a New Yorker magazine that presented a humorous view of geography through the eyes of a New York City resident. A movie company later advertised their film Moscow on the Hudson using a similar piece of artwork with similar elements. The artist sued and a court ruled that the movie company 's poster was not a fair use. Important factors: Why is this case different than the previous case involving the Leslie Nielsen/Annie Leibovitz parody? In the Leibovitz case, the use was a true parody, characterized by a juxtaposition of imagery that actually commented on or criticized the original. The Moscow on the Hudson movie poster did not create a parody; it simply borrowed the New Yorker's parody (the typical New York City resident's geographical viewpoint that New York City is the center of the world). ( Steinberg v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., 663 F. Supp. 706 (S.D. N.Y. 1987).)

Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians

The guidelines were developed to apply only to off-air recording by nonprofit educational institutions

The following is a "work in progress" designed to help our visitors to understand and abide by the rules of copyright protection.  The guidelines are based on the Copyright Law and subsequent guidelines, amendments and endorsements

Click this link to read more>>> Copyright Fair Use of Video Tapes (Pdf)

 

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