Fair use is an important part of copyright law that provides some flexibility for users and new creators. At its core, fair use ensures that there are some kinds of uses that do not require permission or payment. But there are no easy rules for fair use - if you want to take advantage of its flexibility, you have to understand its complexities!
Although there are other exceptions to the far-reaching rights of copyright holders, most of those exceptions only apply in very limited circumstances. Fair use is much more flexible, but also much harder to understand and apply. To understand fair use, you need to be familiar with the four statutory factors, and the idea of "transformativeness". To think through whether a particular use is a fair use, you have to look at these details and other associated issues as a whole. Even then, fair use is unpredictable enough that the best anyone can do is make a well-informed, reasonable guess.
One element of this factor is whether the work is published or not. It is less likely to be fair to use elements of an unpublished work - which makes sense, basically: making someone else's work public when they chose not to is not very fair, even in the schoolyard sense. Nevertheless, it is possible for use of unpublished materials to be legally fair.
Another element of this factor is whether the work is more "factual" or more "creative": borrowing from a factual work is more likely to be fair than borrowing from a creative work. This is related to the fact that copyright does not protect facts and data. With some types of works, this factor is relatively easy to assess: a textbook is usually more factual than a novel. For other works, it can be quite confusing: is a documentary film "factual", or "creative" - or both?
Parody: Parody is one of the most clearly identified transformative uses, but any use of a source work that criticizes or comments on the source may be transformative in similar ways. Legal analysis about this kind of transformative use often engages with free speech issues.
New Technologies: Courts have sometimes found copies made as part of the production of new technologies to be transformative uses. One very concrete example has to do with image search engines: search companies make copies of images to make them searchable, and show those copies to people as part of the search results. Courts found that those thumbnail images were a transformative use because the copies were being made for the transformative purpose of search indexing, rather than simple viewing.
Other Transformative Uses: Because transformative use is a relatively new part of copyright law, it is still developing. Many commentators suggest that audio and video mixes and remixes are examples of transformative works, as well as other kinds of works that use existing content to do unexpected and new things. There is a lot of room for argument and interpretation in transformative use!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. Information contained in the following webpages has been adapted from the Copyright Resources Center at The Ohio State University Libraries and the University of Minnesota Libraries.
This website presents information about copyright law. The LRC make every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but does not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.
Login to LibApps