Law: The Measurement of Copyright Fair Use – 4 Essential Subjective Guidelines

Someday you came across a copyrighted picture that goes perfectly with your own content and wanted to embed it in your texts with a link to the original source, wondering if this action was allowed by law. By your ethical holdings and legal awareness, after failure to reach the owner, you decided to take the step forward and put the asset up on your own webpage in a reduced form with appropriate credit and linked it back to the original work, hoping it constituted a fair use that would absolve you of possible copyright infringement.

So what constitutes a fair use?

It’s universally acknowledged that one is not expected to duplicate copyrighted content on the internet either entirely or in portion in the infringement of copyright laws. However, in cases of fair use, borrowing of copyrighted material may not necessarily break the code. Although unfortunately the judge is the ultimate authority on whether it is a fair use or not, there’s essentially 4 factors governing the he or she’s decision-making process.

  1. The purpose and character of your use
    Not just a same-as-source duplication, your work to use copyrighted content upon new insights, varied expressions, ascended ideas and so forth may well be considered a fair use. Whether or not you are adding value to the new work with borrowed content is an essential criterion in the determination.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
    1) Is the work fact or fiction oriented? In light of the fact that dissemination of facts benefit the public, you could possibly make good fair uses of factual works while it is wise to keep away from novel works which is more of an intellectual product of the author.
    2) Is the work published or not yet? Publishing content the 1st time even before its author does, you are well on the way to a court lost.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion taken
    Take as small portion or amount as possible of any original work. The less you copy the more likely you are excused of a fair use. Nevertheless you should bear in mind that the substantiality is also taken as a strong factor that you are to be convicted of copyright infringement if the copyrighted portion used in your work is considered essence or heart of the original one.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market
    This is generally decided by the result whether the use is undermining the benefits origninal owner receives from the work. If it deprives the income he or she is expecting, it is understandable that you may trigger a lawsuit and almost undoubtedly, lose it.

As the judgement of fair uses is much too subjective and subject to the logic and perspective of the judge, it is highly advised to contact the owner or simply pay a price to get the permission required to display copyrighted work in your own. Apart from the widely accepted criteria listed above, the judge has more to resort to in the judgement of any specific case. For instance, you are more likely to lose with a site filled with advertisements and much less likely so with a non-profit educational .org.

More legal resources on fair use

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