What you should know about copyrights and fair use

Glenn W. Peterson

Copyright is something that California residents need to be aware of when doing things like creating websites, teaching classes or developing any materials to share with others. Violating a copyright can get a person into legal trouble. However, there is something called fair use that may give people a chance to use copyrighted materials without permission and without any legal issues.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, the legal doctrine of fair use stands upon four main factors. When deciding if something is fair use, courts are encouraged to take a look at how much of the work is being used, the nature of the work, how using the work will affect its market value and the purpose for using it. In general, this doctrine protects situations where copyrighted material is being used for critique, research, news reporting and teaching. This idea is in place to help promote freedom of expression and the four factors should weed out someone trying to simply abuse the doctrine.

This idea of having acceptable situations where a person can use copyrighted material without getting permission is not something seen outside the U.S., according to The Atlantic. Other countries generally have laws concerning such use, but it is dealt with in a much more relaxed manner in the U.S. The four factors are simply suggestions to the courts, and the ultimate decision is left up to them. This can make things confusing and sometimes result in lengthy legal battles. It also means that the concept is not written in stone and can be interrupted in many different ways, depending on the judge.