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Fair use

The meaning of «fair use»

Fair use is a doctrine in the law of the United States that permits limited use of copyrighted material without having to first acquire permission from the copyright holder. Fair use is one of the limitations to copyright intended to balance the interests of copyright holders with the public interest in the wider distribution and use of creative works by allowing as a defense to copyright infringement claims certain limited uses that might otherwise be considered infringement.[1] Unlike "fair dealing" rights that exist in most countries with a British legal history, the fair use right is a general exception that applies to all different kinds of uses with all types of works and turns on a flexible proportionality test that examines the purpose of the use, the amount used, and the impact on the market of the original work.

The doctrine of "fair use" originated in the Anglo-American common law during the 18th and 19th centuries as a way of preventing copyright law from being too rigidly applied and "stifling the very creativity which [copyright] law is designed to foster."[2] Though originally a common law doctrine, it was enshrined in statutory law when the U.S. Congress passed the Copyright Act of 1976. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued several major decisions clarifying and reaffirming the fair use doctrine since the 1980s,[3] most recently in the 2021 decision Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc.

The 1710 Statute of Anne, an act of the Parliament of Great Britain, created copyright law to replace a system of private ordering enforced by the Stationers' Company. The Statute of Anne did not provide for legal unauthorized use of material protected by copyright. In Gyles v Wilcox,[4] the Court of Chancery established the doctrine of "fair abridgement", which permitted unauthorized abridgement of copyrighted works under certain circumstances. Over time, this doctrine evolved into the modern concepts of fair use and fair dealing. Fair use was a common-law doctrine in the U.S. until it was incorporated into the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 107.

The term "fair use" originated in the United States.[5] Although related, the limitations and exceptions to copyright for teaching and library archiving in the U.S. are located in a different section of the statute. A similar-sounding principle, fair dealing, exists in some other common law jurisdictions but in fact it is more similar in principle to the enumerated exceptions found under civil law systems. Civil law jurisdictions have other limitations and exceptions to copyright.

In response to perceived over-expansion of copyrights, several electronic civil liberties and free expression organizations began in the 1990s to add fair use cases to their dockets and concerns. These include the Electronic Frontier Foundation ("EFF"), the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Library Association, numerous clinical programs at law schools, and others. The "Chilling Effects" archive was established in 2002 as a coalition of several law school clinics and the EFF to document the use of cease and desist letters. In 2006 Stanford University began an initiative called "The Fair Use Project" (FUP) to help artists, particularly filmmakers, fight lawsuits brought against them by large corporations.

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