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What is Fair Use in Copyright Law?

Friday, 31 March 2017

movie-918655_640The term “fair use” relates to an exemption in copyright law that permits the free use of protected materials without first seeking permission from the rights holder. But how does it work in practice and can it be relied upon?

How are creative works protected online?

Copyright allows creators of media such as photos, videos, graphics, music and film to protect their work and to prevent it being manipulated, edited or copied by other people. However, while copyright is quite a well established idea, the digital age has presented a plethora of new challenges.

One of the first things to understand is that copyright is not universal and specific copyright laws actually vary from country to country. In an interconnected world, this means that copyright needs to be properly understood and observed if you want to avoid infringing on anyone’s intellectual property. The internet allows for creatives to access work from other creatives in practically any part of the world, so it is important to tread carefully and understand which laws apply to you.

The birth of social ‘sharing’ through platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have caused a growth in copyright infringement but many creators are unaware that they are doing anything wrong by sharing, copying or editing others work without permission. For instance uploading photos or video content which does not belong to them on social media might seem innocent enough but could actually cause harm to the owner of the content. An example of this could be a movie fan that uploads a trailer of a new movie to social media before the scheduled release date. From the original creator’s perspective, this trailer has been ‘leaked’ without their permission and could potentially harm impact of the trailer and affect their profits or box office standing once the movie is released, but from the perspective of the movie fan, they probably don’t realise they have done anything wrong.

Another example could be a blogger who uses photographs taken from a Google search to make their website more visually appealing. While the photos are freely available to view, they are not necessarily free to use. The photographs could belong to a website which makes a profit from taking photographs and selling them in a ‘stock image’ store. So using their photographs on your website without paying for the licence in their eyes is viewed as theft.

With this in mind, it is important to be careful when sharing, uploading or editing content in any way as you may be infringing on someone’s copyright. However, there are limited circumstances in which you can use someone else’s work without their permission under what is called fair use.

Fair Use

Fair Use is a principle that can sometimes be used as a defence in claims of copyright infringement. However, it only applies in specific scenarios and should not be relied upon in order to distribute, edit or duplicate content belonging to someone else. This area of law can be quite complicated but in general terms fair use will apply when content is used in the context of commentary, critique, used for research and educational purposes or used with the intention of sharing news to the public.

While fair use is designed to ensure that copyright law doesn’t impede on the public’s right to hear about current affairs or unfairly penalise those who accidentally infringe on copyright, it cannot be used as a defence in every situation.

If you believe that your copyright has been wrongfully infringed, outside of the realms of fair use then you should speak to an experienced copyright and trade mark solicitor immediately. Here at Rollingsons our team of copyright and trademark solicitors have handled claims in a wide variety of creative industries. For a consultation, please call us on 020 7611 4848 or click here for further information.

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