Clare Painter Associates

Digital licensing agency, copyright audits, and publishing rights consultancy

‘Fair’ Use

This post was first published in Clare Painter’s digital rights newsletter on 11 May 2016

When Can Use Be ‘Fair’?

Copyright rules vary across the world

Whenever you draw on someone else’s content, you need to know whether you’re likely to be breaching copyright or not. In the US, for example, ‘fair use’ was set up partly so as to allow certain reasonable uses without the (perhaps, perceived?) barrier of needing to seek permission.

But it doesn’t apply everywhere, and knowing when and how you can rely on it, can be quite nuanced.

New digital models sometimes push at the edges of what’s acceptable, and we saw this in action a week or so ago with the judgement of in favour of Google’s mass digitisation project.

However, ‘fair use’ as such only exists in a handful of countries. Most have their own legal variations, and these can vary widely. In the UK for example we have ‘fair dealing’: although it sounds similar, it is very different and a much weaker provision.

So, what does this mean in your own publishing?

It’s wise to handle copyright exceptions and exemptions very carefully, and understand that some small level of risk may still be present when you rely on ‘fair dealing’ or equivalent legislation – unless you actually get the opportunity to prove your case in court. That’s not a business model I’d recommend!