Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stanford's Resource on Fair Use and Copyright Law

Many people wonder when they can use material from a copyrighted source under the Fair Use Doctrine. Stanford University's Copyright and Fair Use Overview resource on the Web includes an excellent chapter on Fair Use. Thanks, Stanford! Here's a brief excerpt:
In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and "transformative" purpose such as to comment upon, criticize or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. Another way of putting this is that fair use is a defense against infringement. If your use qualifies under the definition above, and as defined more specifically later in this chapter, then your use would not be considered an illegal infringement.

So what is a "transformative" use? If this definition seems ambiguous or vague, be aware that millions of dollars in legal fees have been spent attempting to define what qualifies as a fair use. There are no hard-and-fast rules, only general rules and varying court decisions. That's because the judges and lawmakers who created the fair use exception did not want to limit the definition of fair use. They wanted it--like free speech--to have an expansive meaning that could be open to interpretation.

Most fair use analysis falls into two categories: commentary and criticism; or parody. . . .
Some of our clients might benefit from considering their article, "Copyright Protection for Short Phrases" by Richard Stim.

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