Fair use seems obscure, but the idea constantly comes up in conversation around me. I  frequently contribute advice and observations to Quora.com, a question and answer website. At any given time, Quora ranks me as a “Most Viewed Writer” on a number of topics. Because of our work at LyonsHost, copyrights and usage draw passionate responses from me. It’s important stuff to know before taking content from other sources and a concern of ours as hosts of many websites.

The two most important rules to follow about reusing internet content are:

  • When presented with uncertainty about use, don’t.
  • If you need clarity on usage, speak to a copyright attorney.

I’ve collected three of my recent answers below about Fair Use. I think the answers stand on their own, but if you want context, you follow the links to the original questions.

Fair Use Rant

No. No. No! This has nothing at all to do with the kind of image. The term is “fair use.” It’s all about the use of the images or other copyrighted work which matters.

I came across this rather clever demonstration/explanation of fair use several years ago. It is well worth your time to watch and understand the point. It’s worth noting that this example uses Disney animation without permission from several closely guarded films to make an excellent point while thumbing its metaphorical nose at the biggest and by reputation, nastiest guard dogs in copyright. Enjoy.

[su_youtube url=”https://youtu.be/CJn_jC4FNDo”]

Which Images?

Fair use refers only to how an image is used, not to any other quality of the image. In other words, a copyrighted image can be used fairly without royalty if the use of that image falls into one of the categories considered “fair use” under United States copyright law. Many (maybe most) other nations do not recognize fair use.

The use of Adsense or any other advertising is a red herring (a diversion from the central topic).

You need to determine if an image is protected. You need to understand if your use is considered “fair use” in the nation in which you are based. Finally you must determine if you are not paying for a license, if you have the financial means and stamina to defend yourself against claims of infringement and if any of the headaches are worth it. Just because your use is fair, doesn’t mean that some over eager licensing entity won’t try suing you.

In summary, the image cannot be fair use. How and where you use an image will determine if the use is fair. Just because you are right, doesn’t mean that someone won’t try to take you to court.

What About Samples?

No, samples for mixes are not considered fair use and there are numerous judgments on record which have received mainstream press to support that statement.

Unless you are:

  1. Teaching
  2. Reporting about
  3. Satirizing

a given work of art (visual , written, or performance) can not be used without permission. There is no maximum amount that you may borrow for free.

Get permission and you can do whatever your license allows. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.


Leave a comment

Leave a Reply