Copyright law and the doctrine of fair use

With the rise of the internet and social media, copyright infringement has become a significant issue for businesses and individuals alike. With easy access to protected materials and countless ways to adopt and display them, knowing when someone can or cannot use them has become exceptionally complex.

Copyright basics

U.S. copyright laws automatically protects original works, both published and unpublished. Books, photographs, software and webpage designs are just a few examples of protected works. Copyright law gives the owner of the work exclusive rights to copy, display and distribute it and no other person or entity may do so without the owner’s permission.

Fair use doctrine

The rights afforded to creators and owners of protected works do have limits, however. The doctrine of fair use is an exception to those rights, allowing others to use the work without permission, under certain circumstances. Common applications of the fair use doctrine include when the work is used for commentary or reporting and for educational or research purposes.

Whether a work is used appropriately as fair use depends on a number of factors, including the purpose of the use and whether it’s of a commercial or non-profit nature. The nature of the work itself also plays a role, as does the amount of the work that was actually used. Finally, it must be asked what impact using the work will have on its value or market.

All of these factors must be considered to determine whether a copyrighted work can be or has been used properly under the fair use doctrine, or if it is copyright infringement. Each instance of usage must be looked at on an individual basis and the importance of each factor will vary depending upon the situation.