Copyright Law: The Four Factors of Fair Use

A creation of the mind is a property, like a tangible piece of property which you own, and you have the right to protect your creation, just as you would your physical property. Copyright protects the rights of the intellectual property creator and their works, including movies, music, TV shows, and software.

Copyright protection is limited to a specified number of years depending on the type of work created. During that time, nobody can copy the protected work, in full or in part, without the permission of the copyright holder. If a copyrighted work is copied illegally, the copyright holder has the right to seek damages.

However, fair use allows exceptions to this rule. The US Copyright Act, section 107, provides a range of situations wherein a work can legally be reproduced without permission from the copyright holder. Some examples include education, criticism, parody, and news reporting.

If a creator files a lawsuit, the judges must decide whether the case constitutes fair use, using four factors to guide them. These factors are non-binding, and additional factors can be introduced if the judge believes they are necessary.

The Reason?

Courts will look at how the work is being used without permission. For example, if you download an illegal copy of a movie to watch, you are just copying the movie and not adding value to it. For fair use to apply, you must also add value to the original work. This could be adding notes to sections of a novel or providing a running commentary of camera angles during a movie.

Claims for nonprofit reasons are more likely to succeed than those used to make money.  It would be difficult to argue fair use if you’re making money from copying another person’s work.

What is the Nature of the Work?

Society benefits from the sharing of facts and information. Although it could be argued that society also benefits from entertainment, nonfictional work such as biographies, news reports, and sports results are more likely to be considered fair use than fictional work. It would be easier to claim fair use for factual work instead of works such as songs, movies, or novels.

Quantity Copied

The more you copy, the less likely you are to be permitted to claim for fair use. Someone copying an entire DVD for a friend isn’t the same as a teacher photocopying one page from a book and adding notes for his students. A news channel playing a few short clips of a new movie without permission would likely be considered fair use, but it would be difficult to claim fair use when uploading copyrighted TV shows for other people to watch for free online.

Any Harm Caused?

Judges will also consider whether the copyright holder was harmed because of the illegal copying. This concept isn’t restricted to financial harm; it can also include the reputation of the author. Fair use would be more difficult to prove if the judge finds the copyright holder was harmed in any way.

Copyright laws help intellectual property creators to protect their rights and earn a living from their trade for a set number of years. Copying another person’s work for profit can harm the copyright holder’s right to earn a living from his creation. When a complaint is filed, the judge will consider the aforementioned factors to help determine whether a claim can be regarded as fair use.