Copyright and Fair use

Copyright word cloud written on a chalkboard

To promote the growth of science and useful arts, US Constitution empowers the Congress to secure the exclusive rights of writers and inventors to their intellectual work, for a limited time. That means, the copyright holders have some exclusive rights to their work, which are protected by US copyright regulation.

However, there is some flexibility in the copyright law, called Fair use, whereby the copyrighted material can be used by others in some well-identified forms and conditions. US Fair use is by far the most flexible, broadest, and most controversial copyright exception. It is the law that allows use of copyrighted material without permission of the copyright holder.

To understand the fair use, let us suppose a singer launches his new song, and sings it in a concert. A news reporter talks about a concert in his report with a short clip of his new song. A critique writes an online review of the song and plants a short clip of the song on the website. Although the song was shared in both these examples without the owner’s permission, it has not violated the copyright laws and is fair use. The owner will lose the case if he claims copyright violation in the court of law.

A few types of examples for the use of copyrighted material, which do not require permission from the copyright holder, include commentary, parody, news reporting, scholarly research, and education.

US copyright act determines four guidelines to help determine the fair use of copyrighted material. These help courts to decide whether the use of the material is legitimate or not.

1. Purpose and character of use
• Material used for non-profit educational and non-commercial purposes
• Meaning and significance of material is changed by adding new information and creating
new content.

2. Nature of copyrighted work used
• More creative work deserves more protection. The fictional novels deserve more
protection than encyclopedias, since fictional novels require more mental effort.
• Use of published work is better protected by fair use than unpublished work.

3. Amount and substantiality of the portion taken
• Quantitative substantiality: Amount of work used is also important. The less one takes
from the copyrighted work, better it is considered as fair use. For instance, movie clip
of how many seconds is taken from the movie?
• Qualitative substantiality: Part of the work taken is of prime importance. For instance,
has one taken the heart of the clip?

4. Effect of the use upon the potential market
• It checks whether the copied work has adversely affected the copyright owner’s ability
to make money from the original work.

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