Fair Use

Fair use is a copyright principle based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism. For example, if you wish to criticize a novelist, you should have the freedom to quote a portion of the novelist’s work without asking permission. Absent this freedom, copyright owners could stifle any negative comments about their work.

Unfortunately, if the copyright owner disagrees with your fair use interpretation, the dispute may have to be resolved by a lawsuit or arbitration. If it’s not a fair use, then you are infringing upon the rights of the copyright owner and may be liable for damages.

The only guidance for fair use is provided by a set of factors outlined in copyright law. These factors are weighed in each case to determine whether a use qualifies as a fair use. For example, one important factor is whether your use will deprive the copyright owner of income. Unfortunately, weighing the fair use factors is often quite subjective. For this reason, the fair use road map can be tricky to navigate.

This chapter explains the various rules behind fair use principles. To help you get a feel for which uses courts consider to be fair uses and which ones they don’t, several examples of fair use lawsuits are provided at the end of this chapter.

  • Dana Allen

    Hi Rich,

    I put up a few questions on this web to you, but can not find it, as many pages to put up questions/comments. So if you already answered the questions please just give me link to the page did it on.

    Here are my questions again:

    Hi, Very glad found this site. Thanks to those that created it.

    Fair Use will be a huge deal with a business am starting. It will be both internet and broadcast low power TV news channel. The concept is uncensored news and exposing censorship by other news sources.

    I have been in the news business before. I remember a 20 second rule, if you use less than 20 seconds of someone else’s news video its ok, but not more than 20 seconds. Looking a multiple Fair Use websites including this one do not see 20 seconds.

    1. Is there a 20 second rule today?

    2. Separately have s video up on YouTube that uses some CSPAN video bot from them just as member of the public ($20 DVD) in which I am in a debate with Sam Donaldson. Have 20 seconds of it up. If I were to put up the full 3 minutes of it with the CSPAN logo up, so not pretending its my work, is that a problem?

    3. We will make enemies because we will have shows that focus on showing segments from many news sources like ABC, CBS, FOX, etc. then either criticizing them or praising them for good work with a panel of critics (like CNN’s Reliable Sources or Fox’s media review show). So a 30 minute show could have ten 30 second clips of video from others (presented as such) and 25 minutes of panel discussion and viewer call in and comment. Would that be illegal?

    4. What about public events such as State of the Union message. We could not afford to have our own camera there, if we aired 5 minutes of it with CNN screen, would that be illegal if we are criticizing the speaker instead of the news coverage?

    5. How about things people put up on YouTube? If there is a free to view 30 minute documentary by the creator on YouTube, can a TV station say ” Here is a great documentary up on YouTube by Mr. X about our national debt”, is that legal?

    6. And the last issue. What if there is a hurricane in Barbados and CNN shows waves pounding a house. If our anchor were to put that up in a sub-window and said “Here is footage CNN just took of H7 hitting Barbados” and show 10 seconds of it, would that be legal even though not a criticism?

    The whole purpose is not to hurt other TV news sources financially be stealing their work, but we may hurt them even more financially by exposing that they are unreliable source of news. That is our mission. So since they will see us as the enemy need to understand Fair Use, as they have a motive to run us out of business.

    Thanks Dana


  • http://dearrichblog.blogspot.com/ rich stim


    I don’t always check this page but if you have permission or fair use questions, direct them to me at dearrichquestion at gmail. The blog is http://dearrichblog.blogspot.com/

  • John V

    My friend wants to upload a Hollywood movie in four parts so that his family can watch it on Facebook, one-fourth of the movie at a time. I told him that will be seriously illegal based on my limited (lay person) understanding of copyright laws. I cannot find the exact answer to the question, but I’m 99.9% sure I’m right. If anyone can lend me the other 0.1% that would be great.

    • http://nickmoline.com/ Nick Moline

      I’m not a lawyer either but that would definitely not be legal unless he happened to own said movie. Splitting a movie into sections would not make it fair use. Displaying a small clip from a movie might be depending on how it was used, but large portions or the whole thing would not be legal.