Fair Use is the use of copyrighted material for a limited purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an infringement. Fair use is one of the limitations to copyright intended to balance the interests of copyright holders with the public interest in the wider distribution and use of creative works by allowing certain limited uses that might otherwise be considered infringement.
Examples of fair use in United States copyright law include commentary, search engines, criticism, parody, news reporting, research, and scholarship. Fair use provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author’s work under a four-factor test. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.
Most fair use analysis falls into two categories: (1) commentary and criticism, or (2) parody.
Commentary and Criticism
If you are commenting upon or critiquing a copyrighted work—for instance, writing a book review—fair use principles allow you to reproduce some of the work to achieve your purposes. Some examples of commentary and criticism include:
quoting a few lines from a Bob Dylan song in a music review
summarizing and quoting from a medical article on prostate cancer in a news report
copying a few paragraphs from a news article for use by a teacher or student in a lesson, or
copying a portion of a Sports Illustrated magazine article for use in a related court case.
The underlying rationale of this rule is that the public reaps benefits from your review, which is enhanced by including some of the copyrighted material.
A parody is a work that ridicules another, usually well-known work, by imitating it in a comic way. Judges understand that, by its nature, parody demands some taking from the original work being parodied. Unlike other forms of fair use, a fairly extensive use of the original work is permitted in a parody in order to “conjure up” the original.