Exactly what is ‘Fair Use’?
As you probably know, it is generally an infringement to use another’s copyrighted work without authorization. However, one common defense to infringement actions is “fair use.” But how can you determine whether something is used in “fair use”?
The courts follow a four-step balancing test, which can be quite complex and examines both the original and the copied works in much detail. Only after examining and weighing all four factors will the courts decide whether an item was used in “fair use.”
The first factor is the “purpose and character of the use.” For instance, non-profit educational purposes will weigh more in favor of fair use than for-profit uses. Uses exploiting an original work for commercial gain tend to weigh in the other direction. This factor also considers the transformative nature of the new work. For instance, a “parody” (assuming it’s a true parody) will weigh in factor of fair use in this factor.
The second factor is the “nature of the copyrighted work.” The more informational and functional the original work, the broader the scope of the fair use defense. For original creative expressions such as many songs and paintings, this factor generally weighs against fair use.