Relearning Fair Use
As a self-proclaimed fangirl of many fandoms, such as the Harry Potter fandom, I have often encountered the phrase ‘fair use’ on the Internet. Many producers of ‘fan-content’, including artwork of characters, stories written in the world of another authors work, etc., claim ‘fair use’ and include a disclaimer in every description of work, stating the characters’ creator owns character(s) and that no profit is made through the ‘fan-content.’ However, in all my procrastinated hours, I never knew that the same ‘fair use’ fans claim for their content also protects me from copyright infringement when I quote someone in my research essays or blogs.
What is Fair Use?
Fair use, excluding all legalese, is an exception in the US Copyright Law, in which a person may use copyrighted material with out permission from the owner of the material. The U.S. Copyright Office determines whether the use of material is ‘fair’ using the following factors:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of 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
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
Originally, this exception was included to allow researchers/students to support their research theses without having to ask permission and/or pay a fee. With the advent of the Internet, the fair use clause has come under a great amount of scrutiny, and in some minds, under attack.
Why Does It Matter? (Answer: SOPA)
Fair Use affects more than the general population, including myself, realizes. This became quite clear when the Stop Only Piracy Act (SOPA) was introduced into Congress, and the internet blew up with opposition against it. While meant to prevent the pirating of copyrighted materials online in other countries, the provisions in the proposed bill would have allowed the government to shut down and/or censor multiple prominent online corporations, including Google, Wikipedia, and Tumblr. In response to this bill, over 75,000 sites agreed to ‘black out’, or temporarily make unavailable, to online visitors. (For the full list of websites, click here) SOPA did not pass, but it brought a critical eye onto the current Copyright Laws.
Here is another explanation of SOPA, explained by “The Guardian:”
After living through the SOPA fiasco, I saw how Fair Use fills my internet usage everyday. In the wake of that possibly being taken away and with the relearning of Copyright Infringement through my Mass Communications courses, I have come to the conclusion that the Fair Use and Copyright Infringement Laws, while imperfect, are still the best policy. While these laws can’t extend into foreign countries where pirating is prevalent, the amount of creativity and community generated through online ‘fair use’ of media is too great to sacrifice.
What are your opinions on Fair Use and SOPA? Are you a fan who creates fan-content and shares it online? Comment below and tell of your experiences with Fair Use and copyright!