Fair use is a legal doctrine in the law of the United States that permits limited use of copyrighted material without having to first acquire permission from the copyright holder. Fair use is of the limitations to copyright intended to balance the interests of copyright holders with the public interest in the wider distribution and use of creative works by allowing certain limited uses that might otherwise be considered infringement. Examples of fair use in United States copyright law include commentary, search engines, criticism, parody, news reporting, research, and scholarship. Fair use provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor Legal tests.
The term "fair use" originated in the United States. Although related, the limitations and exceptions to copyright for teaching and library archiving in the U.S. are located in a different section of the statute. A similar-sounding principle, fair dealing, exists in some other common law jurisdictions but in fact it is more similar in principle to the enumerated exceptions found under civil law systems. Civil law jurisdictions have other limitations and exceptions to copyright.
The Supreme Court has traditionally characterized fair use as an affirmative defense, but in Lenz v. Universal Music Corp. (2015) Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., 801 F.3d 1126, 1133 (9th Cir. 2015). (the "dancing baby" case), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that fair use was not merely a defense to an infringement claim, but was an expressly authorized right, and an exception to the granted to the author of a creative work by copyright law: "Fair use is therefore distinct from affirmative defenses where a use infringes a copyright, but there is no liability due to a valid excuse, e.g., misuse of a copyright."
In response to perceived over-expansion of copyrights, several electronic civil liberties and free expression organizations began in the 1990s to add fair use cases to their dockets and concerns. These include the Electronic Frontier Foundation ("EFF"), the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Library Association, numerous clinical programs at law schools, and others. The "Chilling Effects" archive was established in 2002 as a coalition of several law school clinics and the EFF to document the use of cease and desist letters. Most recently, in 2006, Stanford University began an initiative called "The Fair Use Project" (FUP) to help artists, particularly filmmakers, fight lawsuits brought against them by large corporations.
The statutory fair use factors quoted above come from the Copyright Act of 1976, which is codified at . They were intended by Congress to restate, but not replace, the prior judge-made law. As Judge Pierre N. Leval has written, the statute does not "define or explain fair contours or objectives." While it "leaves open the possibility that other factors may bear on the question, the statute identifies none." That is, courts are entitled to consider other factors in addition to the four statutory factors.
In the 19th century copyright case Folsom v. Marsh, Justice Story wrote:
"A reviewer may fairly cite largely from the original work, if his ability to experience life with out manipulation or modification than be really to use the passages for the purposes of fair and reasonable criticism would’ve been acceptable. On the other hand, it is as clear, that if he thus cites the most important parts of the work, with a view, not to criticise, but to supersede the use of the original work, and substitute the review for it, such a use will be deemed in law a piracy."
A key consideration in recent fair use cases is the extent to which the use is transformative. In the 1994 decision Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music Inc, the U.S. Supreme Court held that when the purpose of the use is transformative, this makes the first factor more likely to favor fair use. Before the Campbell decision, federal Judge Pierre Leval argued that transformativeness is central to the fair use analysis in his 1990 article, Toward a Fair Use Standard. Blanch v. Koons is another example of a fair use case that focused on transformativeness. In 2006, Jeff Koons used a photograph taken by commercial photographer Andrea Blanch in a collage painting. Koons appropriated a central portion of an advertisement she had been commissioned to shoot for a magazine. Koons prevailed in part because his use was found transformative under the first fair use factor.
The Campbell case also addressed the subfactor mentioned in the quotation above, "whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes." In an earlier case, Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., the Supreme Court had stated that "every commercial use of copyrighted material is presumptively . . . unfair." In Campbell, the court clarified that this is not a "hard evidentiary presumption" and that even the tendency that commercial purpose will "weigh against a finding of fair use . . . will vary with the context." The Campbell court held that hip-hop group 2 Live Crew's parody of the song "Oh, Pretty Woman" was fair use, even though the parody was sold for profit. Thus, having a commercial purpose does not preclude a use from being found fair, even though it makes it less likely.
Likewise, the noncommercial purpose of a use makes it more likely to be found a fair use, but it does not make it a fair use automatically. For instance, in L.A. Times v. Free Republic, the court found that the noncommercial use of Los Angeles Times content by the Free Republic Web site was not fair use, since it allowed the public to obtain material at no cost that they would otherwise pay for. Richard Story similarly ruled in Code Revision Commission and State of Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc. that despite the fact that it is a non-profit and didn't sell the work, the service profited from its unauthorized publication of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated because of "the attention, recognition, and contributions" it received in association with the work.
It is arguable, given the dominance of a rhetoric of the "transformative" in recent fair use determinations, that the first factor and transformativeness in general have become the most important parts of fair use.
To prevent the private ownership of work that rightfully belongs in the public domain, facts and ideas are not protected by copyright—only their particular expression or fixation merits such protection. On the other hand, the social usefulness of freely available information can weigh against the appropriateness of copyright for certain fixations. The Zapruder film of the assassination of President Kennedy, for example, was purchased and copyrighted by Time magazine. Yet its copyright was not upheld, in the name of the public interest, when Time tried to enjoin the reproduction of stills from the film in a history book on the subject in Time Inc v. Bernard Geis Associates.293 F. Supp. 130 (S.D.N.Y. 1968)
In the decisions of the Second Circuit in Salinger v. Random House and in New Era Publications Int'l v. Henry Holt & Co, New Era Publications Int'l v. Henry Holt & Co, 695 F. Supp. 1493 (S.D.N.Y. 1988) the aspect of whether the copied work has been previously published was considered crucial, assuming the right of the original author to control the circumstances of the publication of his work or preference not to publish at all. However, Judge Pierre N. Leval views this importation of certain aspects of France's droit moral d'artiste (moral rights of the artist) into American copyright law as "bizarre and contradictory" because it sometimes grants greater protection to works that were created for private purposes that have little to do with the public goals of copyright law, than to those works that copyright was initially conceived to protect. This is not to claim that unpublished works, or, more specifically, works not intended for publication, do not deserve legal protection, but that any such protection should come from laws about privacy, rather than laws about copyright. The statutory fair use provision was amended in response to these concerns by adding a final sentence: "The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors."
Using most or all of a work does not bar a finding of fair use. It simply makes the third factor less favorable to the defendant. For instance, in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. copying entire television programs for private viewing was upheld as fair use, at least when the copying is done for the purposes of time-shifting. In Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corporation, the Ninth Circuit held that copying an entire photo to use as a thumbnail in online search results did not even weigh against fair use, "if the secondary user only copies as much as is necessary for his or her intended use".
However, even the use of a small percentage of a work can make the third factor unfavorable to the defendant, because the "substantiality" of the portion used is considered in addition to the amount used. For instance, in Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises,, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a news article's quotation of fewer than 400 words from Gerald Ford's 200,000-word memoir was sufficient to make the third fair use factor weigh against the defendants, because the portion taken was the "heart of the work." This use was ultimately found not to be fair.
For example, in Sony Corp v. Universal City Studios, the copyright owner, Universal, failed to provide any empirical evidence that the use of Betamax had either reduced their viewership or negatively impacted their business. In Harper & Row, the case regarding President Ford's memoirs, the Supreme Court labeled the fourth factor "the single most important element of fair use" and it has enjoyed some level of primacy in fair use analyses ever since. Yet the Supreme Court's more recent announcement in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music Inc that "all four are to be explored, and the results weighed together, in light of the purposes of copyright" has helped modulate this emphasis in interpretation.
In evaluating the fourth factor, courts often consider two kinds of harm to the potential market for the original work. First, courts consider whether the use in question acts as a direct market substitute good for the original work. In Campbell, the Supreme Court stated that "when a commercial use amounts to mere duplication of the entirety of the original, it clearly supersedes the object of the original and serves as a market replacement for it, making it likely that cognizable market harm to the original will occur". In one instance, a court ruled that this factor weighed against a defendant who had made unauthorized movie trailers for video retailers, since his trailers acted as direct substitutes for the copyright owner's official trailers.
Second, courts also consider whether potential market harm might exist beyond that of direct substitution, such as in the potential existence of a licensing market. This consideration has weighed against commercial copy shops that make copies of articles in course-packs for college students, when a market already existed for the licensing of course-pack copies.''
Courts recognize that certain kinds of market harm do not negate fair use, such as when a parody or negative review impairs the market of the original work. Copyright considerations may not shield a work against adverse criticism.
One such factor is acknowledgement of the copyrighted source. Giving the name of the photographer or author may help, but it does not automatically make a use fair. While plagiarism and copyright infringement are related matters, they are not identical. Plagiarism (using someone's words, ideas, images, etc. without acknowledgment) is a matter of professional ethics. Copyright is a matter of law, and protects exact expression, not ideas. One can plagiarize even a work that is not protected by copyright, for example by passing off a line from Shakespeare as one's own. Conversely, attribution prevents accusations of plagiarism, but it does not prevent infringement of copyright. For example, reprinting a copyrighted book without permission, while citing the original author, would be copyright infringement but not plagiarism.
Some copyright owners claim infringement even in circumstances where the fair use defense would likely succeed, in hopes that the user will refrain from the use rather than spending resources in their defense. Strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) cases such as these—alleging copyright infringement, patent infringement, defamation, or libel—often come into conflict with the defendant's right to freedom of speech, and has prompted some jurisdictions to pass anti-SLAPP legislation which raises the plaintiff's burdens and risk.
Although fair use ostensibly permits certain uses without liability, many content creators and publishers try to avoid a potential court battle by seeking a legally unnecessary license from copyright owners for any use of non-public domain material, even in situations where a fair use defense would likely succeed. The simple reason is that the license terms negotiated with the copyright owner may be much less expensive than defending against a copyright suit, or having the mere possibility of a lawsuit threaten the publication of a work in which a publisher has invested significant resources.
Fair use rights take precedence over the author's interest. Thus the copyright holder cannot use a non-binding disclaimer, or notification, to revoke the right of fair use on works. However, binding agreements such as contracts or licence agreements may take precedence over fair use rights. Wall Data v. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept (9th Cir. May 17, 2006) ( PDF at Ninth Circuit).
The practical effect of the fair use doctrine is that a number of conventional uses of copyrighted works are not considered infringing. For instance, quoting from a copyrighted work in order to criticize or comment upon it or teach students about it, is considered a fair use. Certain well-established uses cause few problems. A teacher who prints a few copies of a poem to illustrate a technique will have no problem on all four of the above factors (except possibly on amount and substantiality), but some cases are not so clear. All the factors are considered and balanced in each case: a book reviewer who quotes a paragraph as an example of the author's style will probably fall under fair use even though they may sell their review commercially; but a non-profit educational website that reproduces whole articles from technical magazines will probably be found to infringe if the publisher can demonstrate that the website affects the market for the magazine, even though the website itself is non-commercial.
Fair use is decided on a case by case basis, on the entirety of circumstances. The same act done by different means or for a different purpose can gain or lose fair use status. Even repeating an identical act at a different time can make a difference due to changing social, technological, or other surrounding circumstances.
Text and data mining was subject to further review in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust, a case derived from the same digitization project mentioned above. Judge Harold Baer, in finding that the defendant's uses were transformative, stated that 'the search capabilities of the HathiTrust have already given rise to new methods of academic inquiry such as text mining."
For example, when Tom Forsythe appropriated Barbie dolls for his photography project "Food Chain Barbie" (depicting several copies of the doll naked and disheveled and about to be baked in an oven, blended in a food mixer, and the like), Mattel lost its copyright infringement lawsuit against him because his work effectively parodies Barbie and the values she represents. In Rogers v. Koons, Jeff Koons tried to justify his appropriation of Art Rogers' photograph "Puppies" in his sculpture "String of Puppies" with the same parody defense. Koons lost because his work was not presented as a parody of Rogers' photograph in particular, but as a satire of society at large. This was insufficient to render the use fair.
In Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music Inc the U.S. Supreme Court recognized parody as a potential fair use, even when done for profit. Roy Orbison's publisher, Acuff-Rose Music, had sued 2 Live Crew in 1989 for their use of Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman" in a mocking rap version with altered lyrics. The Supreme Court viewed 2 Live Crew's version as a ridiculing commentary on the earlier work, and ruled that when the parody was itself the product rather than mere advertising, commercial nature did not bar the defense. The Campbell court also distinguished parodies from satire, which they described as a broader social critique not intrinsically tied to ridicule of a specific work and so not deserving of the same use exceptions as parody because the satirist's ideas are capable of expression without the use of the other particular work.
A number of appellate decisions have recognized that a parody may be a protected fair use, including the Second ( Leibovitz v. Paramount Pictures Corp.); the Ninth ( Mattel v. Walking Mountain Productions); and the Eleventh Circuits ( Suntrust Bank v. Houghton Mifflin Co.). In the 2001 Suntrust Bank case, Suntrust Bank and the Margaret Mitchell estate unsuccessfully brought suit to halt the publication of The Wind Done Gone, which reused many of the characters and situations from Gone with the Wind but told the events from the point of view of the enslaved people rather than the slaveholders. The Eleventh Circuit, applying Campbell, found that The Wind Done Gone was fair use and vacated the district court's injunction against its publication.
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found in favour of the defendant, Arriba Soft. In reaching its decision, the court utilized the statutory four-factor analysis. First, it found the purpose of creating the thumbnail images as previews to be sufficiently transformative, noting that they were not meant to be viewed at high resolution as the original artwork was. Second, the photographs had already been published, diminishing the significance of their nature as creative works. Third, although normally making a "full" replication of a copyrighted work may appear to violate copyright, here it was found to be reasonable and necessary in light of the intended use. Lastly, the court found that the market for the original photographs would not be substantially diminished by the creation of the thumbnails. To the contrary, the thumbnail searches could increase the exposure of the originals. In looking at all these factors as a whole, the court found that the thumbnails were fair use and remanded the case to the lower court for trial after issuing a revised opinion on July 7, 2003. The remaining issues were resolved with a default judgment after Arriba Soft had experienced significant financial problems and failed to reach a negotiated settlement.
In August 2008, Judge Jeremy Fogel of the Northern District of California ruled in Lenz v. Universal Music Corp. that copyright holders cannot order a deletion of an online file without determining whether that posting reflected "fair use" of the copyrighted material. The case involved Stephanie Lenz, a writer and editor from Gallitzin, Pennsylvania, who made a home video of her thirteen-month-old son dancing to Prince's song Let's Go Crazy and posted the video on YouTube. Four months later, Universal Music, the owner of the copyright to the song, ordered YouTube to remove the video under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Lenz notified YouTube immediately that her video was within the scope of fair use, and she demanded that it be restored. YouTube complied after six weeks, rather than the two weeks required by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Lenz then sued Universal Music in California for her legal costs, claiming the music company had acted in bad faith by ordering removal of a video that represented fair use of the song. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a copyright owner must affirmatively consider whether the complained of conduct constituted fair use before sending a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, rather than waiting for the alleged infringer to assert fair use. 801 F.3d 1126 (9th Cir. 2015). "Even if, as Universal urges, fair use is classified as an 'affirmative defense,' we hold—for the purposes of the DMCA—fair use is uniquely situated in copyright law so as to be treated differently than traditional affirmative defenses. We conclude that because 17 U.S.C. § 107 created a type of non-infringing use, fair use is "authorized by the law" and a copyright holder must consider the existence of fair use before sending a takedown notification under § 512(c)."
In June 2011, Judge Philip Pro of the District of Nevada ruled in Righthaven v. Hoehn that the posting of an entire editorial article from the Las Vegas Review Journal in a comment as part of an online discussion was unarguably fair use. Judge Pro noted that "Noncommercial, nonprofit use is presumptively fair. ... Hoehn posted the Work as part of an online discussion. ... This purpose is consistent with comment, for which 17 U.S.C. § 107 provides fair use protection. ... It is undisputed that Hoehn posted the entire work in his comment on the Website. ... wholesale copying does not preclude a finding of fair use. ... there is no genuine issue of material fact that Hoehn's use of the Work was fair and summary judgment is appropriate." On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Righthaven did not even have the standing needed to sue Hoehn for copyright infringement in the first place.
Such codes of best practices have permitted communities of practice to make more informed risk assessments in employing fair use in their daily practice. For instance, broadcasters, cablecasters, and distributors typically require filmmakers to obtain errors and omissions insurance before the distributor will take on the film. Such insurance protects against errors and omissions made during the copyright clearance of material in the film. Before the Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use was created in 2005, it was nearly impossible to obtain errors and omissions insurance for copyright clearance work that relied in part on fair use. This meant documentarians had either to obtain a license for the material or to cut it from their films. In many cases, it was impossible to license the material because the filmmaker sought to use it in a critical way. Soon after the best practices statement was released, all errors and omissions insurers in the U.S. shifted to begin offering routine fair use coverage.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated also relied on fair use to feature several clips from copyrighted Hollywood productions. The director had originally planned to license these clips from their studio owners but discovered that studio licensing agreements would have prohibited him from using this material to criticize the entertainment industry. This prompted him to invoke the fair use doctrine, which permits limited use of copyrighted material to provide analysis and criticism of published works.
Sources differ on whether fair use is fully recognized by countries other than the United States. American University's infojustice.org published a compilation of portions of over 40 nations' laws that explicitly mention fair use or fair dealing, and asserts that some of the fair dealing laws, such as Canada's, have evolved (such as through judicial precedents) to be quite close to those of the United States. This compilation includes fair use provisions from Bangladesh, Israel, South Korea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Uganda, and the United States. However, Paul Geller's 1999 International Copyright Law and Practice says that while some other countries recognize similar exceptions to copyright, only the United States and Israel fully recognize the concept of fair use.
On September 2, 2009, the Tel Aviv District court ruled in The Football Association Premier League Ltd. v. Ploni that fair use is a user right. The court also ruled that streaming of live soccer games on the Internet is fair use. In doing so, the court analyzed the four fair use factors adopted in 2007 and cited U.S. case law, including Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corp. and Perfect 10, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc..
Compared to the United States, Polish fair use distinguishes between private and public use. In Poland, when the use is public, its use risks fines. The defendant must also prove that his use was private when accused that it was not, or that other mitigating circumstances apply. Finally, Polish law treats all cases in which private material was made public as a potential copyright infringement, where fair use can apply, but has to be proven by reasonable circumstances.
In determining whether art. 35-3(1) above applies to a use of copyrighted work, the following factors must be considered: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is of a non profit nature; the type or purpose of the copyrighted work; the amount and importance of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; the effect of the use of the copyrighted work upon the current market or the current value of the copyrighted work or on the potential market or the potential value of the copyrighted work.
CCH Canadian Ltd v. Law Society of Upper Canada 2004 1 S.C.R. 339, is a landmark Supreme Court of Canada case that establishes the bounds of fair dealing in Canadian copyright law. The Law Society of Upper Canada was sued for copyright infringement for providing photocopy services to researchers. The Court unanimously held that the Law Society's practice fell within the bounds of fair dealing.