Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Fair Use Doctrine.

These days, there are millions, maybe even billions of digital images, personal quotes, artworks, and other forms of digitized intellectual property circulating freely on the internet.  Much of this material is easily accessible with a keystroke or two.

When I write entries for this blog,  I generally look for photo images, charts, illustrations, quotes from notable authorities, anything that will make my message more compelling. There is a copyright doctrine called' Fair Use' that offers legal guidelines for the public use of this freely available intellectual property.

Here is the Fair Use Doctrine as written in U.S. law...

17 U.S.C. § 107
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:
  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.[4]

As written in the law, this doctrine is open to relatively broad interpretation. The law seems to boil down to two things. You can't use somebody else's intellectual property to make money for yourself. You cannot use it in a way that casts any kind of negative or unflattering light on the originator of the copy written material.

In my case, when I repost articles of interest that I find on the net, I give credit to the originator of the material. 

Not long ago, I posted a blog entry about a live cam of an eagle's nest on the grounds of the Naval Observatory on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.  The article was entirely about this live video feed.  To make the piece more accessible, I selected two quality images of bald eagles  I found when I googled 'bald eagle images'.   The images I selected were beautiful,  but did not include the name of the copyright holder. Not long after that blog entry was posted, a person who says he was the owner of one of the images posted a comment on that entry accusing me of stealing his image. I certainly had no intention of improperly using his image. I put it there only to illustrate what the blog was actually about.  That seems to fit very easily within the exceptions allowed under 'fair use'.  Still, since this person was upset with  my use of his copy written image, I immediately removed it from that blog entry.  I then responded to that accuser, telling him that I had removed the image, even though 'fair use' did not require me to do so.

There are nearly 500 entries in this blog. Only that one time has somebody made an issue of my usage of material freely available on the net.  I believe the approach I have taken to this issue is readily defensible under the fair use doctrine.   My advice to anyone who uses copy written material is to err on the side of caution.  If you think the owners of that material might be offended, the best course is not to use it.

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