Is fair use a “grey area”? Not if you know the law. Then it’s a flexible, robust tool for digital culture. Test your knowledge!
Happy Fair Use Week! Fair use, the right to reuse someone else’s copyrighted material for new purposes that don’t intrude on the copyright holder’s market, is often described as “risky,” “uncertain,” or a “grey area.” But today’s fair use has become a pretty low-risk, high-value activity. In fact, it’s so routine that a lot of people don’t even realize they’re employing fair use. Students quote scholars in their term papers–that’s fair use. Journalists quote from corporate documents–ditto. Television news features someone whose ringtone accidentally goes off–also fair use. Filmmakers use fair use to make their points visually or auditorally (for instance a montage of riffs from pop-songs connoting a historical moment, or a collage of magazine covers, TV news clips and audio). Podcasters include clips from a news program to catch you up, to critique it, or to illustrate a point. Again, fair use.
But could you make the call? It gets a lot easier when your professional arena has consensus. Journalists have a Set of Principles in Fair Use to guide them. Try your hand at these journalistic situations, drawn from our “You Be the Judge” series for journalists. The answers are on the webpage! Check them out. And if you want more on journalism and fair use, get the Set of Principles in Fair Use for Journalists!
The Protest Rally
Sam, a radio reporter, interviews protesters at a rally; behind them, other protesters are chanting, “All we are saying is give peace a chance”–a John Lennon song. Does he have to use other interviews instead? Yoko Ono is known to be really litigious, but Sam really likes the energy of the speakers in this interview.
The Art Exhibit Opening
Prithi, a hyper-local blogger, is covering the opening of an exhibit of a local water-colorists. Two of the artists have emailed her pictures she can use, but she’s also taking pictures of the opening. The pictures include the artworks on the walls in the background , and they’re of course copyrighted. Does she have to get the gallerist’s permission? She thinks the gallerist represents them all, and probably could speak for them.
School Board Scandal
Freddy has been working on an investigative series about local school board contracts. One of the subjects of the story is a single-bid contract for high-priced HVAC systems. She wants to run a series of inter-office emails within the company showing price-gouging, in the online news service’s resources page for the series. These emails are copyrighted, of course, to the authors or the company. Can she use them without getting permission from the company or the authors?
Diego is covering a music awards event, in which the poster at the event has a hilarious typo in it. He takes a picture of the poster, and he wants to reproduce it on the web page where his story runs. Does he need to check with the publicist for the music awards?