The Copyright Act of 1976 (the copyright laws of the United States) gives the creator of a work five exclusive rights:
the right to make reproductions of the work;
the right to publically display the work;
the right to publically perform the work;
the right to distribute the work; and
the right to make or authorize derivative works based on the original
Generally, when someone who has not received the permission of the creator exercises one of those rights, that person is infringing on the rights of the creator and can be liable for copyright infringement. However, the Copyright Act includes some defenses. There are exemptions from the infringement provisions, along with “statutory licenses,” which allow an infringer to pay a set fee for the use of the material, even without specific permission. One of the broader defenses, however, is fair use.
What is Copyright Fair Use?
The fair use provision is meant to promote discussion, commentary, and education regarding works otherwise covered by copyright law. Essentially, it allows users of a copyrighted work to argue that their use is not infringement because it does not create the kind of threat to a creator’s right to be compensated for his work that copyright law protects. For example, fair use generally allows things like parody, or quotation in an editorial to facilitate commentary. Fair use is codified in the Copyright Act through a set of four factors the court will balance to determine if the use of the work is fair or should be penalized as infringement.