Fair use: economic boon or bane?

Todd Vandenbark

Two studies released this week highlight the ongoing debate over copyright protections and “fair use” of such materials.The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s study claims that certain “intellectual-property” sensitive industries such as aerospace engineering and computer manufacturing thrive more in states that aggressively enforce copyright and other intellectual property (IP) laws. Shortly thereafter, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) released a report claiming that fair use is essential to innovation, and adds $4.7 trillion in revenue to the US economy every year.

While it is beyond the scope of this blog to explain and document all aspects of this issue, a brief summary is in order. As the Marriott Library’s website summarizes it:

Copyright law balances the intellectual property interests of authors, publishers and copyright owners with society’s need for the free exchange of ideas. The fair use provision of the Copyright Act allows reproduction and other uses of copyrighted works under certain conditions for purposes such as criticism, teaching, scholarship or research.

In Section 107 of The Copyright Act of 1976 it outlines the limitations of copyright holders’ exclusive rights, and establishes general guidelines for evaluating fair use. In determining whether use made of a copyright-protected work can be considered “fair use,” the courts must consider:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Both the Medical Library Association (MLA) and the American Library Association (ALA) support and advocate fair use practices by their members.

Returning to the issue of the conflicting reports issued this week, the blog Hillicon Valley noted that:

The Government Accountability Office recently reported that some studies and statistics used by content industry advocates exaggerate and overstate piracy levels. CCIA took out a full-page ad in Politico today to point out the problems with the data.
“The content industry’s claimed numbers are completely baseless…” read the ad. “Unfortunately, damage has been done. These false numbers have been used to justify the DMCA, ACTA and other efforts to restrict new technologies.”

Mark Twain once said that copyright protections should last for the lifetime of the author plus 50 years. The Copyright Extension Act of 1998 extended existing protections to the life of the author plus 70 years for individual works, and 120 years for works of corporate authorship.

What do you think? How long should copyright protections last? And what is “fair use” of copyrighted materials? Tell us!