Creating Responsible Netizens

All is fair in love and copyright? December 5, 2011

Filed under: dean — dean @ 1:38 am

Moving on to something that’s also related to copyright: fair use. While it’s probably not something that you’ll run into every day unless you’re an artist or something similar, it’s something that every netizen should keep in the back of their mind, as it’s likely to be encountered at some point.

What is fair use? It’s essentially a way for people to use copyrighted work without permission from the rights holders. This is in place to make sure that creativity still flourishes and that artists won’t be scared away from building on and critiquing the work of others, and that teachers would be able to have the ability to distribute material that they would otherwise not be able to.

So what is considered fair use, and what is considered copyright infringement? According to the Copyright Act of 1976, these are four factors that determine whether something qualifies as fair use:

  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.

Let’s apply this to real life. While there’s no clear cut algorithm where you can input yes/no answers to the four questions above and get a clear cut answer saying whether something was fair use or copyright infringement, there are some blatant examples. For example, when copyrighted works are imitated to make a satirical point or for commentary, it will likely be protected under fair use. However, the courts ruled that a Harry Potter guide that quoted heavily from the series would not be protected as fair use. In fact, JK Rowling said something along the lines of the writer of guide eating the cherry from her cake or some equally hilarious comment.

So when will you ever encounter this? Imagine if you’ve ever wanted to set some hilarious picture as your profile photo, or use a photo you found online in a project. Use the rules above to apply it to your situation and see if it’s fair use or copyright infringement!