Fair Use
Intellectual Property - Electronic Copyright  

 Intellectual Property

Patents and Copyright Laws

Fair Use

Study Guide

What exactly is fair use?

Fair use is an attribute of US Copyright law that outlines the legal uses of someone else's copyrighted work.  Although the concept of fair use has been in existence for quite some time, it was first incorporated into the law under the Copyright Act of 1976.  In order to be considered legal, Section 107 of this Copyright Act analyzes the use of a work for four distinct characteristics:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

While these definitions may seem somewhat broad, there have been many fair use related court cases since the law was enacted.  Many of these cases have set precedents for future situations.

What are some current controversial fair use topics?

Within the digital world, fair use is becoming more and more of an issue now that access to material and the circumventing of copywrite protection is easier each day.  Because of these issues, fair use law is a very controversial topic.

Distance Education

Distance education courses raise several issues of fair use.  Traditionally it is acceptable to use copyrighted material in a classroom for educational purposes.  However, distance education courses take this to another level.  If a lecture is videotaped, and the professor uses copyrighted material, it is now recorded onto another medium which can be replayed at any time.  If a professor puts reading material online, they are essentially publishing it.  Although it is not intended for the general population, is fair use violated when non-students access the information?  Recently Congress passed a law called TEACH Act which outlines fair use in a distance education classroom.

Electronic Reserves

Electronic reserves present another problem. When libraries subscribed to magazines, they were presented in a format that only allowed one patron to read an article at a time. Now, with electronic reserves, tens or even hundreds of library "patrons" can view an article at a time. Does this limit the copyright owner's right to publish and reproduce a work? Guidelines for Fair Use and Electronic Reserves list a number of conditions that must be met in order to allow copyrighted materials to be made available in this format. These conditions include password protection and limited access.  Google Book Search is also a recent controversial issue in the digitization of printed media.  It seems like a good idea.  Is fair use limiting the greater good, or will Google experience legal repercusions?

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