Copyright, Fair Use and the Internet

This fine article from describes the current cloud surrounding interpretations of legal doctrine of Fair Use.  The Fair Use doctrine is a part of USA  Copyright law that describes the conditions that have to be in place when using copyrighted material without permission from the creators.

Digitization and the Internet have blown the issue of what is and what is not “Fair Use” up beyond anyone’s imagination.  When the concept was originally set as part of copyright law, Fair Use was to

  1. facilitate the quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment
  2. allow for the reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson;
  3. allow the reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports;
  4. to allow the incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.

The article, written by Dan Fisher and Dirk Smillie makes these important points…

The real problem? Copyright laws never anticipated a time when people would be able to broadcast essentially private content all over the world, including scraps of copyrighted material.

Yet for all its importance, [Fair Use] remains a tricky concept courts determine on an agonizing case-by-case basis–making it difficult to determine whether the Next Big Thing on the Web is providing a valuable public service or violating copyright law on a wholesale basis. Judges must consider the nature of the work that has been copied, how much of it has been copied, and whether the copying hurt the ability of the content owner to make money off of it.

Today’s tug-of-war is mainly between Internet content providers, who use the doctrine of Fair Use as the rational behind posting copyrighted material without permission and content creators who believe that some content web sites are infringing on their copyrights and thus their right to earn money from their creations.

In the end, it’s about money. You have web content providers using Fair Use to enhance their business model on one hand and on the other, you have the content creators who feel that today Fair Use is being used to take money away from them.

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