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Meaning of Term Fair Use under Copyright Law


Last Updated on June 4, 2024 by Kanakkupillai

An exemption to a creator’s rights, known as fair use, permits limited uses of copyrighted content without the creator’s consent. The fair use concept guards against a strict interpretation of copyright laws that would undermine its primary goal of promoting creation. We’ll examine the fair use of copyright next.

Describe Copyright

The inherent right of a writer, artist, musician, or other creator to manage how their work is used is known as copyright. This indicates that a work protected by copyright may not be copied, shared, or appropriated by others without the author’s consent. The artist also influences how the work is performed or displayed in public.

Copyright is a right that takes effect the moment a work is done; copyright registration is only necessary in cases of legal difficulties or the enforcement of economic rights. The Fair Use Doctrine, established by the Copyright Act of 1976, is one of the “user rights” exceptions to this exclusive right that exists to balance the rights of the copyright owners.

To report current events in a newspaper, magazine, or similar periodical, by broadcast, in a cinematograph film, through photographs, or by using excerpts of a performance or a broadcast, as well as for legitimate review, teaching, or research, reproduction of literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works is covered by the fair use or fair dealing provision. Fair use also includes the act of a legitimate owner creating copies or adapting a computer programme for the purposes it was given or providing temporary relief from the program’s loss, destruction, or damage.

Fair use allows for the lawful, unauthorised quotation of or inclusion of copyrighted content into the works of other authors. Here are some instances of fair usage under copyright law:

Comments and critique

For illustration or remark, quoting or excerpting a work in a review or criticism would often be considered fair use. It would be acceptable for a book reviewer to use excerpts from a book in a newspaper column to analyse the book.

1. News coverage

Fair use is when a news story summarises a speech or article using a few quotes. A journalist might quote a text from a political speech without the politician’s consent.

2. Scholarship and research

Using a brief paragraph from an academic, scientific, or technical publication would be permissible to illustrate or clarify the author’s observations. An art historian might use a picture of a painting to study the artwork in a piece of scholarly writing.

3. Educational purposes not for profit

Instructors can often photocopy small sections of written works for classroom use. To use as part of a lesson plan, an English teacher is allowed to copy a few pages from a book for the students to see. She would not be allowed to photocopy the entire book; it should be noted.

4. Parody

A parody is a piece of art that mocks another, generally well-known work by humorously copying it. A comedian might make fun of a movie celebrity by quoting from their remarks.

Legal Requirements In India

Although there isn’t a single definition of what constitutes fair usage, the Indian legal framework for fair dealing says that:

The following actions are not considered to be violations of copyright:

(a) A fair handling of a piece of writing, theatre, music, or other creative endeavour for the aim of

(i)private study or research;

(ii) constructive criticism or reviews of the work in question or of any other work;

(b) an ethical use of a piece of literature, theatre, music, or other art for the aim of reporting on current events —

(i) in a newspaper, magazine, or other comparable publication;

(ii) by broadcast, cinematograph, or photographic techniques.

Copyright Act 1957

A limited amount of copyrighted works may be used without the owner’s consent under Section 52 of the Copyrights Act of 1957, providing exceptions to copyright infringement. You may obtain the complete Section, including the many provisions of fair dealing and fair usage, in Section 52 of the Copyrights Act’s application to particular works.

Fair use/fair dealing may be used as a defence for the authorised use of copyrighted works, according to Section 52(1), asserting that such usage does not constitute infringement. An exception to the exclusive right given to the original author of the copyrighted work is fair use/fair dealing. It permits the use of works protected by copyright as well as some degree of value addition to the original works. This value addition or transformation in the aforementioned copyrighted work shall not violate the original work’s copyright.

A copyrighted word’s particular use is deemed fair if it typically only covers a tiny fraction of the work, is used or reproduced for educational purposes, or does not obstruct the owner of the copyrighted work from marketing the original work.

According to Section 14 of the Copyright Act of 1957, “Copyright” refers to the only authority to do any act, including reproduction, issuing copies, transmission to the public, adaptation, and translation concerning a work or any significant portion thereof. An adequate indication of the extent of infringement is provided by using the phrase “reproduction” to describe both the entire work and a significant portion of it. Hanfstaengl V. Baines & Co. and Cunniah & Co. V. Balraj and Co. both outline a relevant test to determine what comprises the major component. Producing a copyrighted work’s “substantial component” without authorization is illegal.

The Copyright Act of 1957 does not define what “substantial” means, but court precedents guide how to determine what is meant by the phrase “substantial part thereof.” This is inferred from the legal proceedings between Orient Longman Limited and Inderjeet Anand. The basic elements of the work’s reproductions comprise significant infringement. If there is not enough likeness, it is not a copyright violation unless there is a significant imitation. In the case of Ladbroke (Football) Ltd. v. William Hill (Football) Ltd., this is stipulated. It must be proven that the original has either been substantially duplicated or has been so replicated as to be a simple evasion of the copyright for it to be considered piracy. This is apparent in Macmillan & Co. Ltd. V. K. and J. Cooper.

In the United States

Section 107 of the copyright law codifies the fair use concept, which has evolved via many court rulings.

A list of the numerous uses for which the reproduction of a given work may be considered fair may be found in the Copyright Disclaimer in Section 107. such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, instruction, scholarly work, and research. In addition, Section 107 lists four criteria to take into account when deciding whether a given use is fair:

  • the objective and nature of one’s usage
  • the characteristics of the protected work
  • how much and what percentage of the entire job was stolen, and
  • use’s impact on the prospective market or market price of the copyrighted work

Fair Use Factors to Take into Account

When determining whether your use of a creator’s work is fair use, there are five fundamental factors to keep in mind.

Rule 1: Are You Producing New Work or Just Copying?

The single most significant consideration in assessing whether a use is fair under American copyright law is the purpose and nature of your planned use of the item in question. Whether you are borrowing someone else’s work, you should consider whether you are simply duplicating it verbatim or if you are incorporating it into your own work.

Rule 2: Do you compete with the source you are quoting?

Without their permission, you are often not allowed to utilise their protected expression in a way that harms (or even threatens to harm) the market for their products.

Rule 3: Giving credit to the author does not always absolve you of responsibility

Some individuals erroneously think they may utilise any content as long as they correctly attribute the creator. Giving credit and fair usage are two very different ideas. According to the fair use principle, you either have permission to utilise another author’s work or you do not. That remains true even if you credit the other author for the content.

Rule 4: The more you take, the less likely it is that your use will be fair

The likelihood that your usage would be deemed fair use decreases the more of the original work is copied. As a general rule, never use more than a few consecutive paragraphs from a book or article, more than one chart or diagram, inclusion of an illustration or other piece of artwork in a book or newsletter without the permission of the creator, or more than one or two lines from a poem.

Contrary to popular belief, fair use has no strict word restriction. For instance, it wouldn’t be considered fair use to steal 200 words from a 300-word piece. However, it could be OK to reproduce 2,000 words from a 500,000-word piece. Everything is dependent on the situation.

Authors will have more freedom to use information from factual works (scholarly, technical, or scientific works) than from works of fiction, such as novels, poetry, and plays, in order to protect the free flow of information.

Rule 5: Both the quantity and the quality of the material used are crucial.

The less likely your use of the material would be deemed fair, the more significant it is to the original work or the value it adds. Fair dealing does not permit you to infringe on the copyright owner’s exclusive rights. Under the guise of fair dealing, obvious content theft cannot be justified. Furthermore, unless a licence has already been secured, using another person’s creation without giving them credit is also an infringement. It won’t be deemed “fair” and “legal” even if the user steals a substantial portion of the work. Because the required level of originality and quality for protection demands reasonable expertise and labour.Only fair use excerpts from the work permit. Furthermore, reproducing the entire work or a sizable portion of it is prohibited. So as not to steal the expression of the concept from the original originator. Any use by an unlicensed person—no matter how minor—violates the author’s rights if there is no concept of fair use in the interpretation of the statute.

The expansion of human knowledge is the main objective of copyright. As courts attempted to balance the interests of copyright owners throughout time, the fair use concept evolved. This philosophy’s primary tenet is that not all copying needs to be prohibited. Specifically in socially significant endeavours like criticism, reporting, teaching, and research, including all significant educational purposes. Thus, the Berne Convention recognises copyright as a global right. Additionally, as jurisprudence has grown, fair use has become a crucial component of intellectual property rights. Further guaranteeing greater clarity in handling legal problems and fair use in court.

The fair dealing/fair use exception’s primary goal is to prevent stagnation in the expansion of innovation. Fair use/fair dealing is a serious notion in India since it stipulates a long list of actions exempt from infringement, and any use of the copyrighted work beyond the parameters of Section 52 is seen as a violation of the copyright. Even yet, the scope of fair use and fair dealing is interpretive and largely depends on how the work is utilised. Depending on various outside conditions, the usage of a copyrighted work varies according to the content’s qualities. We must refer to the fair use rules and fair use and copyright laws along with the allied fair use guidelines for reducing errors and staying intact with any requirements placed by the law in force in the country.


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