Fair Use Week: Day Five With Guest Expert Dr. Matthew Rimmer


For our final blog post of the week we are honored to welcome Dr. Matthew Rimmer.  Dr. Rimmer is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow working on Intellectual Property and Climate Change. He is an associate professor at the ANU College of Law and an associate director of the Australian Centre for Intellectual Property in Agriculture.



Who Killed Fair Use? A Copyright Murder Mystery

Down Under



by Matthew Rimmer

Fair Use Week has been celebrated this week in the United States, with great gusto and enthusiasm. At Harvard Library, Kyle Courtney commented: ‘Fair use is critical and important to innovation, scholarship and research in the United States.’ Kenneth Crews emphasized that ‘the new technological ventures, like other creative pursuits, require fair use and other copyright limitations for experimentation and success.’  Legal director Corynne McSherry of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has highlighted the significance and the importance of the defence of fair use: ‘Fair use provides breathing space in copyright law, making sure that control of the right to copy and distribute doesn’t become control of the right to create and innovate.’ For Techdirt, Mike Masnick has emphasized that fair use is a right – and not an exception or a mere defence. Peter Jaszi and Pat Aufderheide have highlighted the contextual operation of fair use in particular artistic communities. Molly Van Houweling of the Authors Alliance has written about the ecstasy of influence – the role of inspiration and appropriation in all acts of artistic creation. Fair use has been celebrated as a many-splendored legal creation.

While fair use has been feted and celebrated in the United States, fair use has been under attack, both in the United States, and in other jurisdictions. Fair use is in peril. Copyright owners have sought to confine the operation of fair use in litigation in the United States, and in policy debates. Political lobbyists have sought to prevent the adoption of fair use in Australia, and other countries elsewhere in the Pacific Rim. Fair use has been undermined and undercut by intermediary liability schemes, technological protection measures, and contract law. Moreover, fair use has been threatened by international trade agreements – such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In his book Republic, Lost, Professor Lawrence Lessig observed that copyright reform would be unobtainable until there was substantive reform of political donations and lobbying in the United States. He noted: ‘Between 1998 and 2010, pro-copyright reformers were outspent by anti-reformers by $1.3 billion to $1 million – a thousand to one.’ Lessig emphasized that such political donations distorted policy-making in respect of copyright law in the United States across a range of topics – including the copyright term extension; copyright exceptions; and copyright enforcement. The problem has been further accentuated by the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Citizens United – which allowed for greater contributions of ‘Dark Money’. Professor Zephyr Teachout has highlighted such problems in the political and judicial process in her book, Corruption in America.  There has been concern in that United States that copyright owners have been trying to curtail the sweeping defence of fair use in the debates over the reform of copyright law. The language of ‘fair use creep’ has been deployed by copyright owners.

In Moral Panics and The Copyright Wars, William Patry said that ‘the current piracy campaign is intended to create a negative association with all acts not authorized by copyright owners, including uses that are clearly fair use and therefore, lawful, such as non-commercial copying for personal use.’ He emphasized how copyright owners sought to confine and limit the scope of copyright exceptions. In his book, How to Fix Copyright, William Patry again highlighted the moral panic over fair use promoted by the copyright industries. He said that ‘the rhetorical device of turning fair use into a moral panic is made by those who oppose adapting copyright to the digital era.’ Patry commented: ‘Fair use thus serves as a classic moral panic: an effort by vested interests to preserve the status quo through creating a false enemy whom, we are told, must be vanquished for the alleged good of society as a whole.’

Legacy copyright industries have sought to frustrate, delay, and block the introduction of broad copyright exceptions – such as the defence of fair use – overseas. In this context, Australia is an illustrative case study. Over a number of decades, there have been a number of policy inquiries, which have recommended the adoption of a defence of fair use under Australian copyright law. Yet, copyright owners have engaged in a concerted effort to block the adoption of such recommendations at a political level. There has been a campaign to kill and murder fair use before it has a chance to develop in Australia.

In 2014, the Australian Law Reform Commission announced the publication of its report on Copyright and the Digital Economy. The centrepiece of the report was the proposal for the introduction of an open-ended defence of fair use for Australia. The Commission stressed:

Fair use also facilitates the public interest in accessing material, encouraging new productive uses, and stimulating competition and innovation. Fair use can be applied to a greater range of new technologies and uses than Australia’s existing exceptions. A technology-neutral open standard such as fair use has the agility to respond to future and unanticipated technologies and business and consumer practices. With fair use, businesses and consumers will develop an understanding of what sort of uses are fair and therefore permissible, and will not need to wait for the legislature to determine the appropriate scope of copyright exceptions.


The report emphasized that a defence of fair use would be particularly useful to address emerging trends in the digital economy – such as 3D printing, additive manufacturing, Big Data, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things (IOT). Professor Jill McKeough – who was in charge of the inquiry – has highlighted the importance of access to content under copyright law.


Professor Jill McKeough on Copyright Law and Access to Content (2015)


In response, copyright owners waged a political lobbying campaign against the introduction of a defence of fair use in copyright law. Film and Television groups – including Roadshow – and Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited railed against the introduction of a defence of fair use in Australia. The copyright owners engage in ‘swiftboating’ and accuse of the defence of fair use of being alien and foreign, uncertain and indeterminate, expansive and avaricious. The copyright owners have wanted to kill the fair use proposal stone-dead. In the election year of 2013, Village Roadshow – the makers of the Lego Movie and Mad Max – made substantial contributions, both to the Liberal Party of Australia, and the Australian Labor Party. The film company has pushed for greater rights and remedies for copyright owners; and limits upon the operation of copyright exceptions. The new Attorney-General George Brandis has long been a supporter of a copyright maximalist position. He worked closely with the copyright industry in considering the question of copyright law reform in Australia. Freedom of information requests by Josh Taylor revealed that the Attorney-General George Brandis had consulted narrowly with copyright owners, such as Village Roadshow and Foxtel – but had snubbed consumer groups, internet service providers, and public interest groups.


Sympathetic to the concerns of copyright owners, the Attorney-General George Brandis dismissed the introduction of a defence of fair use into Australia out of hand. He suggested: ‘These recommendations will no doubt be controversial and the Government will give them very careful consideration.’ Brandis was particularly concerned about enhancing the rights and remedies of copyright owners: ‘We are particularly concerned to ensure that no prejudice is caused to the interests of rights holders and creators, whether the proposed fair use exception offers genuine advantages over the existing fair dealing provisions and that any changes maintain and, where possible, increase incentives to Australia’s creative content producers.’ He maintained: ‘Without strong, robust copyright laws, they are at risk of being cheated of the fair compensation for their creativity, which is their due.’ Brandis insisted: ‘It is the Government’s strong view that the fundamental principles of intellectual property law that protect the rights of content creators have not changed, merely because of the emergence of new media and platforms.’ He observed: ‘In this changing digital world, we must look for the opportunities, but in reviewing the intellectual property laws, the Government has no intention of lessening rights of content creators to protect and benefit from their intellectual property.’


At estimates in December 2014, Senator Jacinta Collins of the Australian Labor Party questioned the Attorney-General about what, if any, progress had been made in respect of copyright law reform. She asked: ‘Can you advise us on what progress has occurred since February?’ Senator George Brandis responded:


It is under consideration by government. The online piracy issue has been identified as a specific area of reform within the broader topic of overall reform of the Copyright Act, and the effort and public discussion in relation to copyright reform in the past year have been largely focused on that particular topic. Broader reform of the Copyright Act is a matter for the future.


Senator Jacinta Collins pointed out that copyright enforcement was outside the terms of reference of the inquiry: ‘That topic was not really covered by the Law Reform Commission report, was it?’ Senator Brandis refused to give an indication of the time frame for the main areas of the Government response to the Australian Law Reform Commission report. He said: ‘The question of the fair use exemption is as, if you follow this area, you would know, one of the more vexed debates.’ Avoiding the question, the Attorney-General said: ‘Whether we have a general fair use exemption or whether we have more particular categories of exemption, my views are as I expressed them to be.’


Instead of fashioning a copyright defence of fair use, or even making reforms to current copyright exceptions, the Attorney-General George Brandis has pushed for the introduction of a new copyright code, governing intermediary liability in respect of Australian copyright law. A draft Copyright Notice scheme has been developed. There has been much disquiet about the operation of the new ‘Three Strikes’ copyright crackdown by commentators such as Adam Turner, Claire Reilly, David Swan, and Josh Taylor. Jeremy Malcolm, an Australian policy analyst working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, makes the point:


Meanwhile, as Australia fusses around with policing copyright against Internet users in a likely vain attempt to curtail piracy, it is missing the opportunity to make a much longer-term investment in the country’s technological future. Back when Australia’s Attorney General first began talking about instituting a graduated response regime, he also passed up the chance to embrace the Australian Law Reform Commission’s recommendation that fair use be added to copyright law. In Fair Use Week, it bears asking—is the adoption of a copycat graduated response scheme that has failed elsewhere in the world really going to do more for homegrown creativity and innovation than embracing fair use?


In addition, the Attorney-General George Brandis and the Coalition Government have been supportive of the introduction of Data Retention regime.  There has been concern that such data could also be deployed in copyright disputes – whether by copyright owners in civil disputes, or law enforcement agencies like the Police in criminal disputes.


Joint Press Conference on Data Retention Measures with Attorney General George Brandis and Malcolm Turnbull


Digital locks – known by the jargon ‘technological protection measures’ – also pose a significant threat to copyright exceptions, such as the defence of fair dealing, and the defence of fair use. Corynne McSherry of the Electronic Frontier Foundation observes: ‘Fair use has been under assault for decades, thanks to laws like Section 1201 of the DMCA, which makes it illegal to bypass a technical protection measure under most circumstances even if your conduct is an otherwise lawful fair use.’ In his book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age, Cory Doctorow highlights the folly of digital locks, technological protection measures, and copy protection. He discusses the collateral impact of digital locks upon creativity, innovation, and freedom of speech. Doctorow has started Apollo 1201 with Electronic Frontier Foundation as a Moon-Shot project to rid the world of digital rights management. He maintains: ‘We all deserve a better future—one without DRM.’

Contract law also poses a significant threat to copyright exceptions. In the Australian debate, film and Television groups – including Roadshow – have maintained that they should be able to contract out of copyright exceptions, as part of the operation of the marketplace.

Senator Scott Ludlam of the Australian Greens on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (2015)


International treaties also pose a real and dangerous threat to copyright exceptions and access to knowledge. On the 12th February 2015, Senator Scott Ludlam of the Australian Greens expressed concerns in the Australian Parliament that Australia’s copyright exceptions would be affected by the Trans-Pacific Partnership:

We effectively imported some of the worst aspects of US IP law, without their protections. The US has fair-use clauses, which mean that you cannot be prosecuted under US intellectual property law for doing stuff that is quite clearly not impinging on profits—commercial-scale piracy and that kind of stuff. In Australia the situation is very much unclear, and it appears that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from what we know of the IP chapters, will make that situation much worse.


Ludlam is also concerned that copyright owners will deploy investor-state dispute settlement against the introduction of copyright reforms. He fears: ‘If we sign up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which then embeds all kinds of property rights that did not exist before, for the rights holders—if this parliament then decided to do as the Australian Law Reform Commission recommended and institute a fair-use regime, that could be struck down by unelected trade bureaucrats in a tribunal, and the Australian government might choose to not even contest what would likely be a very expensive and extensive arbitral process.’ Ludlam expressed his concerns that the threat of investor actions could have a chilling effect upon progressive copyright reform in Australia.

Far from being a privilege only available in the United States and a few countries, fair use should become the norm and the standard in Australia, the Pacific Rim, and across the world. The integrity of fair use needs to be further protected from collateral attacks from political lobbyists; intermediary copyright law; technological protection measures; and contract law. Fair use needs to be able to flourish and grow, without political interference or legal sabotage.


Dr. Matthew Rimmer is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, working on Intellectual Property and Climate Change. He is an associate professor at the ANU College of Law, and an associate director of the Australian Centre for Intellectual Property in Agriculture (ACIPA). He holds a BA (Hons) and a University Medal in literature, and a LLB (Hons) from the Australian National University, and a PhD (Law) from the University of New South Wales. He is a member of the ANU Climate Change Institute. Dr Rimmer is the author of Digital Copyright and the Consumer Revolution: Hands off my iPodIntellectual Property and Biotechnology: Biological Inventions, and Intellectual Property and Climate Change: Inventing Clean Technologies. He is an editor of Patent Law and Biological InventionsIncentives for Global Public Health: Patent Law and Access to Essential MedicinesIntellectual Property and Emerging Technologies: The New Biology, and Indigenous Intellectual Property: A Handbook of Contemporary Research. Rimmer has published widely on copyright law and information technology, patent law and biotechnology, access to medicines, plain packaging of tobacco products, clean technologies, and traditional knowledge. His work is archived at SSRN Abstracts and Bepress Selected Works.


Fair Use Week 2015: Day Four Featuring Professor William Fisher’s Copyrightx Class









For our fourth entry this week, we are privileged to share the newest lecture on fair use from Professor William Fisher, the WilmerHale Professor of Intellectual Property Law at Harvard Law School and Faculty Director at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.  This lecture is part of Professor Fisher’s CopyrightX course:  a twelve-week networked course, offered each Spring under the auspices of Harvard Law School, the HarvardX distance-learning initiative, and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.  The course explores the current law of copyright and the ongoing debates concerning how that law should be reformed.  This particular lecture, which will be featured in week 9 of the class, is titled “Fair Use Today.”   Many thanks to Professor Fisher for sharing it ahead of the official class release.



Fair Use Week 2015: Day Four with guest expert Niva Elkin-Koren

For our third entry this week, we are excited to feature Prof. Niva Elkin-Koren, Faculty of Law at the University of Haifa, Israel and founding director of the Haifa Center for Law & Technology.



Fair Use: Rights Matter


Fair use is often celebrated as essential for access to knowledge (A2K), and the wide adoption of fair use is often viewed as key to its success. The flexibility rendered by this open norm has certainly enabled courts to adjust exceptions and limitations in a rapidly changing world. Many countries worldwide are seriously considering adapting more flexible norms to address these challenges. However, fair use in and of itself might be insufficient to counterbalance the emerging challenges to open access. We have reached a point where many of the threats to access we face nowadays lie beyond copyright. We might be entering a phase where copyright is taking a back seat, making room for more powerful mechanisms which govern access to cultural works. In light of these changes, a more comprehensive approach to user rights might be necessary.

New challenges to A2K

The rise of cloud computing and mobile Internet has transformed the delivery of content from the sale of copies to the provision of services. Rather than buying books, CDs and DVDs, we are now offered access to eBooks, all-you-can-eat online music subscription and movie streaming services for a monthly fee. The shift from copies to services places control over content in the hands of the service providers. Users lack perpetual control over physical copies. Restrictions on copying, playing and re-mix are set by design, and overall, access to content may expire at any time. A striking example of the lack of user control over a purchased digital copy is the Orwellian 1984 saga in which Amazon.com remotely removed from Kindle purchased copies of George Orwell’s book 1984 due to some copyright concerns. Following a public outcry, Amazon.com apologized and later settled a class action brought against it for violating its terms of service by its remote deletion.

The legal restrictions set by copyright are now supplemented by contractual restriction and control by design. The scope of permissible uses in content is increasingly set by Online Intermediaries Terms of Use (ToU) and End User License Agreements (EULAs). Contractual terms may restrict the right to resell digital copies, limit the right of perpetual use, set limits on educational use, or prohibit reverse engineering, remix, and e-lending by libraries.

Much of online copyright nowadays is enforced by online intermediaries and embedded in their design. Algorithms filter, block, and disable access to allegedly infringing materials. Ubiquitous practices of monitoring and automated filtering by online platforms create further layers of protection which may threaten access to knowledge. Some platforms (such as YouTube) have even turned this into a business model (like Content ID). The choices made by the online intermediaries on filtering, removing, disabling uses or blocking access to online materials lack any transparency and legal oversight. There are numerous anecdotal examples of erroneous removals and blocking access to non-infringing materials (false positive), but its overall scope remains unknown. Clearly however, the removal of non-infringing materials, which might be legitimately used without needing a license, threatens access to knowledge. The robustness of algorithmic filtering, removal and blocking practices is effectively changing copyright default. If copyrighted materials were once available, unless proven infringing, materials detected by the algorithm are now unavailable unless explicitly authorized by the copyright owner.

Overall, these developments in law, design and business models limit the freedom of users to access, experience, transform and dispose of copyrighted (and non-copyrighted) materials.

Is fair use sufficient?

The fencing of cultural works by licenses and algorithms call for a different approach to addressing the freedom of access protected under fair use.

Some courts have a taken a rather narrow approach to fair use, viewing it merely as a legal defense. Fair use as a “defense” authorizes the court to avoid rigid application of copyright exclusive rights, and to hold an otherwise infringing use as non-infringing in particular circumstances. Consequently, fair use may only come into play when a copyright infringement claim is made by copyright owners. Yet, in the emerging environment of licenses and algorithms, copyright is neither the problem nor the solution. Fair use as a legal defense is mostly irrelevant to many of these legal frameworks, and consequently the Legal Defense Approach to fair use might be insufficient to counterbalance these developments.

Others perceive fair use not simply as a legal defense but as an integral mechanism set forth by copyright law to achieve its goals. From this perspective, fair use doctrine critically limits the scope of the monopoly granted to authors under copyright law. It is set to identify the circumstances where unlicensed use should be permissible in order to promote the goals that copyright law seeks to achieve. Consequently, uses that fall under fair use are not simply non-infringing but in fact are desirable, therefore permissible. The right to perform these uses without a license derives from copyright intended goals.

A User Rights Approach to fair use presumes that incentives to authors provide only one means of promoting creativity, while other, equally important mechanisms focus on securing adequate access rights for users. Put differently, the rights of authors (for incentives or just reward) and the rights of users to use creative works (e.g., read, learn, disseminate, re-use and transform) are different mechanisms for promoting copyright goals.

User rights: a global view

User rights were first explicitly recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004, in the landmark case of CCH Canadian Limited. v. Law Society of Upper Canada. This approach was recentlyreaffirmed in a series of copyright decisions. The Canadian Supreme Court, citing with approval Professor David Vaver, explained: “Users’ rights are not just loopholes. Both owner rights and user rights should therefore be given the fair and balanced reading that benefits remedial legislation”.

In Israel, which only recently introduced fair use into the statute with the 2007 Copyright Act, the issue of user rights has already been tackled by the Israeli Supreme Court. Initially, in 2012 the Court explicitly rejected the position that fair use is a user right. The Football Association Premier League Ltd v Anonymous (2012) involved a petition to unmask the identity of an anonymous user who streamed infringing broadcasts of football matches owned by the English Premier League. Even though the petition was dismissed on procedural grounds, the Court held that streaming constituted copyright infringement and fair use did not apply. In rejecting the User Rights Approach the Court explained that fair use should be understood as simply a legal defense.

Soon after, in Telran Ltd. v Charlton Communications (2013), the Court questioned this approach. The case involved the legality of marketing decoding cards which enabled Israeli customers to decode the encoded broadcasts of the World Cup games, which were transmitted by foreign channels via satellites. The Court held that merely distributing the decoding cards did not amount to a copyright infringement, nor was it a contributory infringement, since simply watching copyrighted materials did not constitute copyright infringement. The Court explicitly rejected the fair use Defense Approach of the Premier League Court, noting that fair use is not merely a technical defense to copyright infringement but a permissible use. A few weeks later, in the case of Safecom v Raviv (2013), the Supreme Court reaffirmed this approach in a case addressing the copying of drawings of a functional electric device in a patent application submitted to the USPTO. The Court cited with agreement the user rights approach upheld in Telran and suggested that the time was ripe for holding an extended judicial panel on that matter.

These recent developments in Canada and Israel suggest that the legal status of fair use might have far-reaching consequences. Canadian copyright law includes fair dealing provisions, which are far more limited than fair use. Under fair dealing the use not only has to be proven fair, but must also fall under one of the strictly defined purposes enumerated by law. The Supreme Court of Canada held that since fair dealing was a user right “it must not be interpreted restrictively.” Accordingly, the Court broadly interpreted research, under fair dealing, as also covering sampling during consumer research, and private study as also including copying by teachers.

The Israeli adjudication on user rights suggests that simply introducing into the statute a fair use provision is not the final end of copyright reform. It is rather the beginning of an ongoing struggle to safeguard unlicensed use that is deemed necessary to the very creativity which copyright law is designed to foster.

Future challenges

One of the greatest challenges to access to knowledge in the 21st century is private ordering. Terms of use, restrictions by design and robust algorithmic enforcement threaten to wipe out many of the safeguards of access created by fair use.

The User Rights Approach to fair use could help set limits on private ordering. Under this approach, limits on fair use fall beyond the bundle of rights defined by copyright, and therefore cannot be unilaterally restricted by a license. A User Rights Approach to fair use may also affect the corresponding duties of content providers and online intermediaries, offering a legal framework for invalidating terms of use that unfairly restrict fair use and fundamental freedoms.

Overall, a User Rights Approach to fair use may offer more robust safeguards of users’ liberties in the digital ecosystem. Making fair use more universally adopted might be a good cause. But without strengthening the legal status of fair use, and developing a jurisprudence of fair use rights, we may end up fighting the battles of the past.

Niva Elkin-Koren is the founding director of the Haifa Center for Law & Technology (HCLT) and the former dean of the University of Haifa Faculty of Law. Her research focuses on the legal institutions that facilitate private and public control over the production and dissemination of knowledge. She is a co-founder of the Alliance of Israeli Institutions of Higher Education for Promoting Access to Scientific Materials which drafted a Code of Fair Use Best Practices for academic institutions in Israel. Her publications are listed here.


Fair Use Week 2015: Day Three with guest expert Laura Quilter

Fair Use : A Virtual Anthem of Empowerment and Joy for Librarians and Educators


The American Library Association recently passed an interpretation of its Code of Ethics to clear up confusions about the line that says librarians “respect intellectual property rights.” This phrase was taken by some to mean that librarians must respect the rights of copyright owners, or even police users on behalf of copyright owners.

Keith Aoki, James Boyle, and Jennifer Jenkins, 2006, Bound by Law?, p.59.  Available at http://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/comics/
Keith Aoki, James Boyle, and Jennifer Jenkins, 2006, Bound by Law?, p.59. Available at http://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/comics/


This was wrong. ALA’s new Copyright Interpretation clarified the line because copyright isn’t just a one-way street — it’s a carefully calibrated balance of rights of owners and users, intended to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” (US Constitution, Art. 1, s.8, cl.8.)

Unfortunately, we see the same error over and over again in copyright. Librarians try to do the right thing; try to follow what they have been told is “the law” — but it’s a law that ignores the other half of copyright law: users’ rights.

In fact, what some portray as a cautious or conservative[2] approach turns out to be a radical re-invention of copyright as an absolutist regime, unlike virtually any other legal regime.[3] We see the results of this misguided “conservatism” all too often, and it can lead to real error when this approach conflicts with the fundamental mission of an institution. My own university fell into this trap recently, when it interpreted a government statute to block admission of Iranian students to specific graduate programs. That this policy would pose a conflict with the University’s greater mission of promoting academic freedom and inquiry was, unfortunately, not noticed until after the policy was announced and met with widespread criticism, both within the University and without. Administrators belatedly recognized the mistake in the unduly cautious and conservative approach to that statute, and adjusted course.

Assessing any law solely through the lens of risk assessment can create such conflicts. A better understanding of the need to balance mission risk with legal risk could help avoid this problem altogether. As Brandon Butler and other colleagues[4] have noted, we simply cannot avoid all risk, if we hope to function at all. For example, any time you invite someone onto your property, you risk a slip-and-fall lawsuit. But a University must invite people onto its property in order to teach, conduct research, and simply operate. So we must, all the time, consider potential legal risk, but also mission risk — our duty to fulfill our own mission, and the risk of not fulfilling it if we act out of fear. In fact, whenever I teach law, I am careful to distinguish different levels of ethical and prudential assessment: the legal, the professional, the institutional, and the personal.

So here’s where I’m going to channel Sara Bareilles: I wanna see you be brave.


In copyright, we might be tempted to take an institutionally conservative approach. “Damages in copyright are potentially so large! Fair use is so confusing! It’s hard for ordinary people to understand! Our licensing librarian thinks fair use is risky! There are so many technicalities!”

Fair use is none of these things. Copyright law doesn’t just protect fair use — it charges librarians and educators with the responsibility to use it. So let’s clear away some FUD:[6]

  • MYTH: Fair use is too hard for people to understand. Better be safe and not use it, or get permission.[7]

    FACT: Fair use is founded on the simplest and most universal of concepts — fairness.  If you want to teach someone fair use, start with “fairness” — a concept that even primates and elementary school children grasp,[8] and the central concept that judges rely on in assessing fair use. Once you have a sense of whether the use is fair, go through the four factors to check your common sense assessment.

  • MYTH: Damages are too high and risky! Better be safe and not rely on fair use, or get permission.

    FACT: No they’re not! Well, yes they are — statutory damages are indeed potentially ruinous, but not for educators and librarians who are making good faith assessments of fair use. Section 504(c)(2) eliminates entirely statutory damages for reproductions made in good faith by librarians and educators.[9]And, frankly, the risk is low: Very few plaintiffs really want to bring expensive copyright litigation, especially against educators where their damages are limited by Section 504 or eliminated altogether by sovereign immunity. (And it doesn’t make the plaintiffs look good.) Most complainants will be willing to settle in such circumstances. So you can at least start by being brave, even if you quickly crumble!

  • MYTH: Fair use is too uncertain! The legal precedent doesn’t help us.

    FACT: This myth falsely suggests that the case law on fair use is negative. Actually, the case law is remarkably positive, and it’s especially heartening for transformative uses and for public purposes, like education and disability access. Courts have been strongly supportive of fair uses in recent years, recognizing that as copyright’s scope, term, and penalties grow, so too must user-protective doctrines like fair use.[10] The “Best Practices in Fair Use” project has helped empower users to feel confident about relying on fair use.[11] And flexible doctrines like fair use are influencing lawmakers around the world, and even being adopted outright in some countries.[12]

  • MYTH: Fair use excuses behavior that is unseemly or unethical. It’s more ethical to simply ask permission from the rights holder.

    FACT: Librarians and educators are not engaging in civil disobedience[13] when they rely on fair use, or even taking advantage of some kind of morally ambiguous “technicality” in law.  The Copyright Act encourages librarians and educators to rely on fair use. This choice is deliberate: Congress establishes statutory damages, fee shifting provisions (awarding attorney’s fees to the prevailing parties in copyright infringement), and safe harbors precisely in order to encourage and discourage certain behaviors. The sky high statutory damages in copyright law are not just a handout to rightsholder industries — they’re a signal that Congress wants rightsholders to aggressively enforce their own copyrights.

    Similarly, the numerous special protections for libraries and nonprofit educational institutions are a signal to us. We get special rights throughout the Copyright Act — Sections 107, 108, 109, 110 … heck, even our college radio stations get special discounted royalty rates.[14] Our uses are specially listed in Section 107 as examples of fair uses: “teaching (including multiple copies for fair use)”, “scholarship”, “research”, and listed again in the first factor (“nonprofit educational use”). And Section 504(c)(2) is a classic example of Congress immunizing a party from risk in order to encourage them to take full advantage of their statutory rights.

    What is this plethora of copyright goodness this telling us? By making good faith reliance on fair use virtually risk-free for educators and librarians, I’m pretty sure we’re being told: You can rely on fair use. Really. It’s okay. It’s there for you.

I have seen and appreciated this graphic for years, used by many educational institutions, but I have no idea who made it originally! If anyone knows, I’d love to hear from you.




Electronic Frontier Foundation educational campaign from 2006, “Fair Use Has a Posse”.
Electronic Frontier Foundation educational campaign from 2006, “Fair Use Has a Posse”.

The goal of copyright is “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Librarians and educators have special roles in the dissemination of information, so there’s good reason for our uses to be specially privileged in the copyright scheme. But librarians and educators don’t just have special rights under copyright and fair use — we have special obligations, too. Congress isn’t just giving away these special rights for free.

So what’s the catch? What’s the quo in this quid pro quo? The answer: We’re supposed to educate our users. In Section 108, the Higher Education Opportunity Act — over and over again we’re told to educate our users. Note that we’re not told to police our users, because we’re not in the best position to assess whether their uses are fair (and, because, intellectual freedom). But to educate them. So that’s our job. Education.


There you have it: It’s safe and easy to rely on fair use. It’s our job to teach about fair use, and it’s actually our statutory duty to rely on fair use. And, it’s our duty in the broadest sense of fulfilling our institutional missions, copyright’s general purpose, and librarianship’s embrace of intellectual freedom.

Really, there’s no reason not to be a fair use activist.



Fair use: It makes us all happy.[16]

“It might seem crazy, what I’m about to say
Fair use is here, it won’t go away.
Here come bad news, talking this and that.
Yeah, give me all you got; don’t hold back.
Yeah, well, I should probably warn you, I’ll be just fine.
Yeah, no offense to you, don’t waste your time.
Because I’m happy …”



Happy Fair Use Week, y’all.



Thanks to Charlotte Roh, Kyle Courtney, and Brandy Karl for editing and comment.

[1] Quoting from Sara Bareilles, “Brave” (2013).

[2] I mean “conservative” here in the sense of moderator or cautious, resistant to change; not politically conservative.

[3] Even property law, which is often depicted as being absolute, has numerous third-party protective doctrines. Kevin Smith wrote a helpful blogpost about this last year, “Why is copyright different?”, March 4, 2013..

[4] My apologies — I can’t remember who I first heard make this very helpful analogy!

[5] Transforming “I’m all about that bass, no treble”, from Meghan Trainor, “All About That Bass” (2014).

[6] “FUD” is “fear, uncertainty, and doubt.”

[7] Rightsholders have lately taken to concern trolling librarians and educators in copyright hearings on Capitol Hill: “Fair use is so difficult for librarians. We can set up a nice licensing scheme where they pay us and don’t have to worry their little heads about fair use.” (My paraphrase)

[8] Yes, even primates! See Sean Markey, “Monkeys Show Sense of Fairness, Study Says,” National Geographic News, Sept. 17, 2003. If a million monkeys typed on computers, would they ever come up with something as crazy as 17 USC 112? As for elementary age children — my 6-year-old’s arguments about fairness ring in my ears every day.

[9]17 USC 504(c)(2)

The court shall remit statutory damages in any case where an infringer believed and had reasonable grounds for believing that his or her use of the copyrighted work was a fair use under section 107, if the infringer was:

(i) an employee or agent of a nonprofit educational institution, library, or archives acting within the scope of his or her employment who, or such institution, library, or archives itself, which infringed by reproducing the work in copies or phonorecords[.]

[10] See Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi, 2011, Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright.

[11] American University, Center for Media & Social Impact, “Best Practices in Fair Use”.

[12] Jonathan Band and Jonathan Gerafi, 2013, “The Fair Use / Fair Dealing Handbook”. The Jonathans surveyed the international landscape for fair use and similarly flexible approaches to copyright exceptions in 2013.

[13] Jim Neal, “Fair Use Is Not Civil Disobedience: Rethinking the Copyright Wars and the Role of the Academic Library”, ACRL 2011.

[14]17 USC 118, “Use of certain works in connection with noncommercial broadcasting”. See the Copyright Royalty Board for the current 2012-2015 rates for college radio, and for the proceedings for upcoming rates. http://www.loc.gov/crb/

[15] Transforming lyrics from “Stay With Me”, from Sam Smith (2014).

[16] Minor transformation of Pharrell Williams, “Happy” (2014).

Laura Quilter is the Copyright and Information Policy Librarian at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Libraries.  Laura has a M.S. in Library and Information Science (University of Kentucky, 1993) and a J.D. (UC Berkeley School of Law, 2003).  She has taught as an adjunct professor at Simmons College, and at the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at the UC Berkeley School of Law.  She has consulted with libraries and non-profits on copyright, privacy, and other technology law concerns.  She has also worked as a librarian and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and has lectured and taught courses to a wide variety of audiences. Laura’s research interests include copyright, tensions within teaching and scholarly communication, and more broadly, human rights concerns within information law and policy, including privacy, access to knowledge, and intellectual freedom.

Fair Use Week 2015: Day Two with guest expert Kevin Smith

For our second entry this week, we are excited to feature Kevin Smith, Director of Copyright and Scholarly Communication in the Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communication at Duke University.


What Does Fair Use Taste Like?


Will Cross, a colleague from the NCSU Libraries who teaches a graduate course on legal issues with me, frequently refers to the analogy for fair use that he learned as a law student at the University of North Carolina from the legendary Laura Gasaway – fair use is like soup. It sounds strange, doesn’t it? How could such an abstract and contested legal concept be anything like a warm and comforting bowl of soup? But there is real brilliance in this analogy.

One of the difficult things about explaining fair use is convincing people that it is a balancing test. It is not a checklist, where each factor must add up on the same side of the ledger to either confirm or exclude fair use. It is perhaps the least mechanical, the least “bright line” rule found in our law. And yet it works. And it works because it is like soup.

When an experienced chef is making soup, there are certainly things she has learned that do not change – 5 cups of broth for a pound of meat, sauté the onion first, add a small handful of oregano. But a lot of the process of putting those ingredients together is instinctual, if you will, or learned from experience. Add the salt and taste. Too much? A little more broth will balance it out. In short, making soup means taking the known ingredients, blending them together, and seeing if it tastes right.

With fair use we have a statutory list of four factors. They really tell us what the important facts are: where we should look, when evaluating a particular use, for the ingredients that go into the fair use soup. When we have gathered our ingredients – all the circumstances that describe the purpose of the use, the nature of the original, the amount used, and the impact on the market for the original – we are to look at the whole picture and decide if it looks fair. According to the Supreme Court in Campbell v. Acuff Rose, the factors are “explored and weighed together, in light of copyright’s purpose.” Does the soup taste right? If not, there are adjustments the user can make – a little less on the amount, a bit more of transformation (i.e. critical commentary). The goal is to get to the place where all the ingredients (the specific circumstances) blend together and the soup tastes like fair use. If this sounds subjective and uncertain, it is. But the analogy reminds us that we deal with uncertain judgments all the time, and experience teaches us to exercise good judgment, when we cook and when we assess fair use.

I have belabored this analogy because I find it so useful when thinking about fair use decisions. Consider the decision from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeal in Kienitz v. Sconnie Nation. That case involved a pretty straightforward transformative fair use issue, but it just did not taste right to the judge who wrote the ruling. The crux of the matter was that the mayor of Madison, Wisconsin wanted to stop a famous and irreverent block party that has been going on for years, and at which the mayor himself was apparently a reveler when he was a UW student. A local printing company printed t-shirts that lampooned the mayor for his change of heart, using a photograph of the mayor taken by Mr. Kienitz with the motto “Sorry for Partying” superimposed. The photo (it was, of course, the photographer who sued) was substantially altered for the image on the t-shirt, although the printer readily acknowledge that he had used the picture.

In finding that this was a fair use – a result dictated by lots of precedents – Judge Frank Easterbrook takes an odd approach. The key ingredient in this case, one would think, would be transformation. But Judge Easterbrook apparently dislikes transformation in the fair use soup (I feel the same way about okra). So although he acknowledges that the Supreme Court “mentions” the role of transformation, he dismisses it as a question for the case before him. In the process he also questions the well-known Bill Graham Archive v. Dorling Kindersley case from the 2nd Circuit, even though both cases seem right on point for Kienitz. Judge Easterbrook is just determined to not have transformation in his fair use soup, no matter how much the facts force that ingredient on him. Instead he hangs the bulk of his finding on two of the fair use factors – amount used and impact on the market – and dismisses the other two – purpose of the use and nature of the original – because they “don’t do much in this case.” This is a remarkable statement, since purpose of the use is often considered the most important factor (within the analysis of transformation), and the nature of the original (a portrait photograph) really is relevant in this controversy. But they are not ingredients that Judge Easterbrook can stomach, so he leaves them out of his soup.

The reason I find this case remarkable is, first, because Judge Easterbrook gets to the right result through very poor reasoning (see reactions to the decision here and here). But also because it illustrates the soup-like flexibility of fair use. If one ingredient in the analysis in not to the taste of a judge, he or she can try something different. There are lots of ways to find fair use, and lots of paths open to those who would practice it. That is the beauty of a balancing test, whether tasting the soup to see if it is good or balancing the factors to see if a use is fair. When users are contemplating a use, they can adjust the facts – the ingredients – until the balance seems right.

Of course, in many cases fair use claims are unquestionably palatable. The late Judge Baer, in his decision in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust, clearly enjoyed the taste of Hathi’s fair use claim when he wrote “I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass the transformative uses made by Defendants…” That decision was largely upheld by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the same Circuit whose taste in fair use Judge Easterbrook questions in his Kienitz decision.

All this raises a troubling question. Is fair use really just a matter of taste? Is a balancing test really as subjective as the soup analogy suggests? I think the answer is that it is not. For one thing, it is worth noting that Judge Easterbrook does not really jettison the question of transformativeness, in spite of the language of his opinion. Rather, he slips transformation into his soup in an unusual way, through the fourth fair use factor. When he finds that the t-shirts are “no substitute for the original photograph,” he is really saying that the original has been transformed in a way that serves a new purpose and creates a new meaning. He may not like the taste of the transformation analysis, but he cannot, and does not, wholly exclude it from his recipe. I think this illustrates an important general point about fair use. The factors are pointers that direct us to examine specific facts related to the proposed use. So we know what the ingredients are. And we balance those ingredients to achieve a specific “taste” – a use that serves rather than undermines the constitutionally-stated purpose of copyright. So we know the list of ingredients that go into fair use, and we know the overall “flavor” we are seeking. With those parameters in mind, we all have the opportunity to cook up a tasty batch of fair use soup.

Kevin Smith is Director of the Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communications and is both a librarian and an attorney experienced in copyright and technology law. He also serves as a nationally recognized resource on local and national policy in order to help the Duke community stay informed and involved with the changing landscape of scholarly publication. You can read his regular blog here.  His latest book is Owning and Using Scholarship: An IP Handbook for Teachers and Researchers (2014).



Welcome to the 2nd Annual Fair Use Week hosted by the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication!  This entire week we will be celebrating Fair Use through expert posts, videos, “Fair Use Stories,” and a live panel on Thursday, February 26th.

We are delighted to kick off this year’s celebration with a post by Kenneth D. Crews.  Crews is an internationally recognized expert on copyright, libraries, and fair use.  


“Copyright, Fair Use, and a Touch of Aristotle”


Ponder this overlooked principle of copyright:  Fair use abhors a vacuum.

Commentary and events about fair use justly abound, but fair use does not exist in isolation.  It is not compressed into one celebrated week.  It never stands alone.  And it is integral to the functioning of copyright law.  Fair use responds to changing demands, and by its nature fair use is pulled into the deep uncertainty brought on by expanding innovation.

Start with copyright’s basic premise.  Copyright is fundamentally a system of legal rights, granted initially to authors, authorizing control of certain uses of creative works.  The basic legal rights are familiar.  Copyright owners have rights of reproduction and distribution of copies; rights to make derivatives or adaptions; and rights to make public displays and performances.  For some works, moral rights also apply.

The rights of copyright owners are far from absolute.  They are subject to a variety of conditions and limitations, starting with the fact that copyrights expire, allowing works to enter the public domain.  Copyrights may last for many decades, but the eventual expiration of copyrights is essential to the central purpose of the law: To encourage creativity.  By granting rights, the law encourages authors to create new works.  By assuring a public domain, the law boosts the next generation of creative ventures.

Copyrights are also limited by a long list of statutory exceptions.  The public domain is broad, but it can be far in the future.  By contrast, exceptions apply from the outset of the copyright, but they are of narrow scope.  Fair use is one such exception.  Fair use permits all of us to make uses of copyrighted works, but only within the framework of the four factors in the statute.  The meaning of the factors is wide open to debate, but they ultimately set parameters on the amount, purpose, and other conditions for proper use.

What about that vacuum, you ask?  Already we can see two ways that fair use and vacuums don’t jibe.  First, fair use does not live alone.  It is one of many statutory exceptions.  The U.S. Copyright Act has exceptions for teaching, libraries, services for the blind, music recordings, satellite transmissions, and more.  Indeed, a proper evaluation of fair use often means looking first for a specific statute that might meet your needs.

Fair use is also not in a vacuum for a more conceptual reason.  Fair use may be about public rights, but its significance derives from private rights.  The law grants private rights to authors for the benefit of private parties, but also for a public benefit.  All members of the public benefit if we are motivated to craft new artworks, formulate new software, compose new music, or roll out imaginative novels and movies.  At the same time, many of these new works build upon previous copyrights.  By allowing fair use of works that came before, and of our new works, the law is sanctioning the building block of further aesthetics, storytelling, computer innovations, and even parody.   Fair use is an essential complement to the rights of owners, and it completes the circle of creative incentives.

Finally, fair use abhors a vacuum as a byproduct of its inherent versatility.  Fair use is the go-to statute for creative exploits.  Congress deliberately devised a fair-use law that could apply to all media, all types of works, and all innovative pursuits.  It clearly establish limits on amount, purpose, and other conditions, but fair use at least allows some degree of use as we experiment with unanticipated technologies, formats, and objectives.

Only recently have courts told us that fair use allows low-resolution images in a study of music history, or permits storage of digital books for research indexing and access for the blind.  Courts have resolved that posting videos on YouTube for public criticism may be allowed.   Using a politician’s photograph for political commentary can be fair use, and so can the use of video clips from commercial broadcasters, especially when the selections are limited and the purpose is to facilitate political and social critiques.

As the media and substance of creativity expands, so does the reach of fair use.  The outer boundaries of technology are accelerating swiftly away from copyright’s familiar home.  As innovation open up vast areas of untested space, so will fair use be absorbed into the new realm.  The new technological ventures, like other creative pursuits, require fair use and other copyright limitations for experimentation and success.  Without fair use we would have no troves of digitized research collections from Universities, and we would be denied the biting insights that pour forth from South Park or The Daily Show.

The human drive for innovation will always grasp new opportunities that emerge with technological expansion.  Because fair use is flexible, it is able to be drawn into the vacuum of that new space.  Because fair use is integral to copyright in general, when it melds into the vastness of innovation it also helps protect rights, encourage authors, and promote the progress of public and private interests.


Kenneth D. Crews is an attorney with Gipson Hoffman & Pancione in Los Angeles.  He founded the first copyright center at any university, based at Indiana University.  He also established the copyright center at Columbia University and continues to serve on the faculty of Columbia Law School and the Munich Intellectual Property Center.  He is the author of Copyright Law for Librarians & Educators: Creative Strategies & Practical Solutions (3rd ed., 2012).