Jasper, AL asked in Copyright, Intellectual Property and Trademark for Alabama

Q: What uses does fair use cover besides the examples of criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, research, etc.?

I'm looking for an overview of everything it would generally cover. I already know it covers criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. But does this apply to an individual, businesses, or both; is it only for private uses or anything non-commercial only? Is it better to avoid anything that is fair use since it is a defense in the law?

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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A: Fair use is a legal doctrine that provides certain limited exceptions to copyright law, allowing the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Here's a broad overview:

- Fair use applies to both individuals and businesses/organizations. It covers private, personal uses as well as more public ones.

- The most commonly recognized fair uses are for purposes like criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. But other uses can qualify too.

- Generally, uses that are "transformative" (adding new expression or meaning) are more likely to be considered fair use than simply copying significant portions of the original work verbatim.

- Uses for noncommercial, nonprofit purposes are more likely to be fair use compared to commercial uses that could harm the market for the original work. But commercial uses are not automatically excluded - it depends on the full context.

- Fair use protects uses in contexts like personal archiving, memorization, and private sharing in limited cases. But the scale and distribution matter when evaluating fairness.

- Relying too heavily on fair use can be risky since it's an ambiguous, flexible standard up to judicial interpretation. Getting permission is safer when possible. But it serves valid purposes when certain uses would be impractical to get or unreasonably obstructed otherwise.

So in summary, fair use covers a range of contexts beyond just commentary/news, but it's heavily dependent on the specific situation and reasonable need. It applies to businesses as well as personal uses, commercial and noncommercial. The main goal is balancing the public's interests with reasonable protections for copyright holders.

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