The Internet has revolutionized the way creatives, inventors, publishers, and web users access and interact with digital content. Fair use is a complex subject, so a knowledgeable person (librarian, lawyer etc.) should be consulted. To learn more about Fair Use and the changing digital landscape, checkout the infographic below.
Related program: B.S. in Media Production, Management, and Technology
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Content Usage Standards
The three main standards that govern content usage include copyright, fair use, and public domain. Copyright confers exclusive intellectual property rights to the original creator of content such as art, images, video and text-based writings. Therefore, only a copyright owner can permit others to reproduce, publish, alter or redistribute his/her work. This means that a copyright owner can sue anyone who reproduces, sells, or distributes copyrighted content without the owner’s permission.
Fair use is a legal doctrine that governs copyrighted content usage without necessarily seeking permission from the creator of the content. In this case, people who access, alter, sell, or consume copyrighted material must do so in a fair and reasonable manner. Examples of fair use include using copyrighted content for research purposes, including such content in news reports, and using it in commentary or criticism. Nevertheless, a copyright owner can seek legal redress if he/she feels that fair use doctrine was breached. Creatives who embrace the public domain doctrine do not copyright their content. This means that members of the public can use content published under this doctrine in any way they deem fit.
Creative Freedom in Numbers
The number of creatives filing copyright or IP submissions rose by 6.8% in 2014 to 3,796 compared to 3,553 filings in 2013. To date, the US Copyright Office has received and registered more than 35 million copyrights since 1790. In general, the US Copyright Offices registers 247,000 copyrights related to books, magazines, and newspapers annually. This is in addition to 74,000 sound recording and 73,000 visual works of art copyrights annually. The number of creatives who have sought legal redress in relation to copyright infringement has risen by 91% since 2010 when only 1,984 legal suits wound up in court.
To adequately handle these and other related IP suits, the America Intellectual Property Law Association now boasts of 15,000 members. However, it is worth noting that the average IP lawyer charges about $330 per hour. Moreover, the average cost of a copyright infringement suit ranges from $300,000 to $1,600,000 million.
A good grasp of copyright is necessary if you intend to seek permission to use or copy original content that belongs to someone else. Common signs used to denote copyrighted material include watermarks, internationally accepted copyright symbols, and official US copyright listings. Make sure you correctly attribute the author, title, source, and license terms if you use material with creative commons license. However, some creative commons licenses tend to be “attribution non-commercial.” If you have doubts about fair use, ask yourself if the use of such content impairs the content value or profits attributable to the content creator in any way. Each country has its own copyright laws, so be sure to consult applicable laws in countries associated with the content you are working with.
Another aspect to consider is whether you intend to use the content for commercial or non-commercial purpose. Additionally, you should also consider the portion of the copyrighted content you intend to use. Finally, ask yourself if the intended use adds/subtracts value to/from the original work. All in all, copyrighted work reverts to public domain status when the copyright expires. Such content includes works with copyrights dating back to 1923 or before 1964 and which have not been renewed. This also applies to works that have undergone “dedication’ by owners to bear public domain designation.
Case Studies in Copyright Infringement
One of the most notable copyright infringement cases is the Shepard Fairey vs. Associated Press case, which revolved around the “Hope” graphic of president Obama. AP accused the artist who used its photo to create and print more than 500,000 stickers and 200,000 posters of copyright infringement. Although Fairey countered in 2009 with a fair use suit, he agreed to pay $1.6 million as part of a civil lawsuit agreement reached in 2011. Furthermore, Fairey and AP agreed to share the “Hope” graphic rights.
Another landmark suit was the David Slater VS. Wikimedia lawsuit. David Slater sued Wikimedia for declaring a macaque monkey selfie snapped with a camera the British photographer had set in the Indonesian jungle as an image in the public domain. Although Wikimedia temporarily pulled it down, it later appeared online under its prior designation.
The Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke vs. Marvin Gaye estate suit is also notable because it revolved around elements such as keyboard lines, bass lines, and hook supposedly copied from Marvin’s song “Got to Give It Up”. Pharrell and Thicke countered by stating that their “Blurred Lines” song in no way copied Gaye’s. A federal jury awarded Gaye’s children $7.4 million and both Sony/ATV settled out of court.