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The Myth of Fair Use

Have you ever used someone else’s original work in your social media or website because:

  • If it is on the Internet I can use it freely

  • I used 10% or less, so I can copy a bit of it

  • I didn’t charge for it, so I can use it

  • I can copy if I give the author credit

  • I linked to the original site

  • I have a non-profit, so I can copy it

  • I’m just using it for educational or informational purposes

  • I was commenting on a newsworthy event in my industry, so I can copy it

‘Fair use’ is a doctrine that is an exception to copyright infringement. If you are claiming fair use, it means you have already copied someone else’s material and you are citing fair use as a defense.

Typically, the following types of works are permitted to use small portions of other people’s works without infringement:

  • Criticism

  • Commentary

  • News reporting

  • Teaching

  • Scholarship

  • Research

  • Parody

A court determining if the use is fair will consider these four factors:

  • Purpose and character of use

  • Nature of copyrighted work

  • Amount and substantiality of portion used

  • Effect on market of original work

The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined.

There is no specific number of words, lines or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

Does that sound complicated? It is.

The point is that a smart business owner or entrepreneur should not use other people’s work without a license or other agreement.


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