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Basic Information about U.S. Copyrights

What is "Fair Use"?

Since this is a very frequent question, we offer this short overview to give you an idea of what is involved. It is in no way intended as legal counsel. If you cite works on a regular basis, we recommend you read the code, and perhaps even engage the help of a copyright attorney.
__ Copyright law gives the originator or owner of a work the exclusive rights to reproduce the work, and to extend or sell authorization to others to reproduce the work. These are works the author has copyrighted, or works the publisher has secured from the original owner in a lawful way. Part of the Copyright Code however governs what and how copyrighted materials may be used without such permissions.
__ The "Right to Fair Use" doctrine attempts to govern the use of copyrighted materials, and states certain limitations that all writers and publishers should be aware of. The full text may be found in the Copyright Act (Title 17, U.S. Code) sections 107 through 120. The imitations regarding the "fair use" doctrine the results of a number of court decisions made in recent years. This Section sites statements of purposes, dictating how and under what circumstances the reproduction of a particular work might be considered "fair."
__ Some of the parameters include criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, and research. The section states four factors an author must consider when determining whether or not a particular use can be judged as fair.

Writers and publishers should ask these questions:
  • (1) What is the purpose and character of the use? Is such use of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes?
  • (2) What is the nature of the copyrighted work?
  • (3) What is the amount of work to be used, in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole?
  • (4) How will the use of the work effect the potential market value of the original copyrighted work?

These issues are of paramount importance in the distinction between "fair use" and infringement. They are not easily defined, however they will affect the proceedings in any potential court action. The code does not cite a specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission, so these criteria must be considered. Although a common ethical protocol, the act of acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material is not a substitute for securing permission. In any litigation process concerning an infringement case, the Judge will utilize these criteria in making the decision.
Report of the Register of Copyrights on the
General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law
Some of the situations in which courts have ruled regarding "fair use" are:
  • Quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment
  • Quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations
  • Use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied
  • Summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report
  • Reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy
  • Reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson
  • Reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports
  • Incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.
The fundamental intention of Copyright is to protect the unique way the original author expresses himself, and not necessarily the specific ideas, or concepts of the work.
__ When facing a situation of citing portions of a copyrighted work, we recommend that you get permission from owner. No one may give you permission other than the original holder of the copyright. When in doubt, contact the publisher. If the original owner is deceased with no holding estate, or it is otherwise not practical or possible to obtain permission, then carefully utilize the doctrine of "fair use" and be certain it applies to your citing. If there is any doubt, we recommend dropping the piece. If it is too important to drop, then consult an attorney.

Registered Patent Attorney
TELEPHONE: 201-653-4269 FAX: 201-653-4364
TELEX: 6504023049 MCI MAIL: 402-3049
The above is not intended to be legal advice, but is merely informative of the copyright laws. Anyone interested in obtaining information about copyright protection should seek the advice of a qualified attorney.

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