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What Is Fair Use Copyright Law?

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Author: Richard Cunningham


Many people are interested in the Fair Use copyright law. The Fair Use copyright law enables people to use portions of material that is copyrighted for the purposes of criticism or as commentary. The hard part for many people is understanding what is permissible under the Fair Use copyright law and what is not permissible. Anyone who writes or publishes should brush up on what is allowed and what is not allowed. Using another person's words to make news reports, to use as a comment or criticism or to use for research, scholarship, or for educational uses that are nonprofit are generally considered Fair Use. In these instances, the Fair Use copyright law allows one person or author to make use of another person or author's work without asking permission to do so. In situations that do not fall within these specifications, you are probably violating someone's copyright if you use their work - especially if you are using another person's work for economic or commercial gain.

When you are trying to see if you can use another's words, you should keep a few things in mind. The answer to the following questions will help you gage whether you would be violating a copyright.

First, are you transforming someone else's work or are you copying it?

Second, are you making any financial gains from your work that would compete with the original copyright holder?

Third, do you have the author's permission to quote their work? Just because you list the author and give credit to him or her does not protect you from infringing upon someone's copyright.

Fourth, how much of the original author's work are you using? If you are using a substantial amount of another's work, you are probably in direct violation of their copyright.

Many publishing companies have set rules on how much material they will allow to be quoted in other sources. Some of these ranges start at 100 words or less. However, there are truly no standards to go by, so be careful. You can not assume that keeping your copying fewer than 50 words will allow you to pass under the radar - especially if the original piece is hovering around 125 words itself!

Lastly, what portion of another's work are you using? If it is the meat of the book and the most important part of the book, you are probably in direct violation of the owner's copyright.

With a little common sense it is not hard to decide if you are violating someone's copyright. People who are truly interested in staying within the guidelines of the Fair Use copyright law usually do a good job of doing so. Many people push the Fair Use copyright law right up to the line, while others will blatantly cross over it without giving a second thought to the repercussions. When these people are summoned to court to answer for their vagrant disregard for the property and copyright of another, they are usually sorry. Sorry they got caught! It is very important that people who take advantage of the Fair Use copyright law are held accountable for their actions. Without accountability many more people would follow in their footsteps and use other creators' works as their own.

About the author: Richard Cunningham is a freelance journalist who covers copyright law for http://www.ResearchCopyright.com. Download his free e-book, "Copyright Basics" at http://ResearchCopyright.com.


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