Last week I began publishing a series of posts about intellectual property law. I am already overwhelmed with joy at the positive feedback the series is getting! This week’s post is all about fair use exceptions, which apply to copyrighted works. For a quick refresher on the differences between trademark and copyright, click here to read my first post.
Before we begin, my usual disclaimer: I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice.
That said, let’s dive right in! Fair use exceptions are a fundamental aspect of IP law. They are, in part, what allow me to even write this series to begin with.
Fair use exceptions are uses of copyrighted material that can be defended against infringement claims and do not require prior permission from the copyright holder. The most common fair use exceptions include educational purposes, commentary/criticism, and parody.
Using a still shot from a movie in a critique would almost certainly fall under fair use, as long as its purpose in the movie review is clear. My blogger friend Makhail writes many film reviews, and he does an excellent job of staying well within the bounds of fair use.
Copying a quotation or short passage from a book for a book review would also likely fall under fair use. Virtually every book review I publish here on the blog includes such quotations, which I use to illustrate points in my commentary.
Re-writing a famous poem as a parody would also likely be fair use. One of my personal favorite examples of parody is the YouTube channel Honest Trailers, who uses actual clips from films and creates a new trailer mocking them with satire.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Arguably the best part of fair use exceptions is also the worst part: there are no hard and fast rules.
On the one hand, this is excellent news for all of us – whether we create or consume – because it means that the definition may continue to be expanded in our favor through case law.
On the other hand, this means that steering clear of infringement is never going to be totally foolproof. What one copyright holder feels is infringement, another may not. The line between fair use and infringement can easily become vague, particularly when the limits of the law are pushed.
For example, virtually everyone would agree that quoting a single sentence from a copyright-protected novel in a book review easily falls in fair use territory. It is also inarguable that copy and pasting the entire novel into said review would be infringement. But exactly how long of a passage is it OK to quote before it simply becomes piracy? The answer is for the copyright holder to decide (and then a judge, if it were to come to that).
So, do you have any questions about fair use exceptions that I didn’t cover in this week’s post? Please send all of your IP law questions my way, as I love going on a hunt for answers!
Until next time,