fair use and the networked book 01.23.2006, 3:29 PM
posted by jesse wilbur
I just finished reading the Brennan Center for Justice's report on fair use. This public policy report was funded in part by the Free Expression Policy Project and describes, in frightening detail, the state of public knowledge regarding fair use today. The problem is that the legal definition of fair use is hard to pin down. Here are the four factors that the courts use to determine fair use:
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Unfortunately, these criteria are open to interpretation at every turn, and have provided little with which to predict any judicial ruling on fair use. In a lawsuit, no one is sure of the outcome of their claim. This causes confusion and fear for individuals and publishers, academics and their institutions. In many cases where there is a clear fair use argument, the target of copyright infringement action (cease and desist, lawsuit) does not challenge the decision, usually for financial reasons. It's just as clear that copyright owners pursue the protection of copyright incorrectly, with plenty of misapprehension about what qualifies for fair use. The current copyright law, as it has been written and upheld, is fraught with opportunities for mistakes by both parties, which has led to an underutilization of cultural assets for critical, educational, or artistic purposes.
This restrictive atmosphere is even more prevalent in the film and music industries. The RIAA lawsuits are a well-known example of the industry protecting its assets via heavy-handed lawsuits. The culture of shared use in the movie industry is even more stifling. This combination of aggressive control by the studio and equally aggressive piracy is causing a legislative backlash that favors copyright holders at the expense of consumer value. The Brennan report points to several examples where the erosion of fair use has limited the ability of scholars and critics to comment on these audio/visual materials, even though they are part of the landscape of our culture.