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What is “fair use” in copyright law?

On Behalf of | Aug 28, 2023 | Intellectual Property |

You may have seen a sticker of a famous icon on the back of a car or listened to a new song that sounds eerily similar to something much older. This happens a lot and many people wonder if this would be considered copyright infringement. Artists have the right to alter pre-existing works of art without authorization from the original owner under the “fair use” doctrine.

Fair use is a defense tactic used against claims of copyright infringement in the form of comments, criticism, news reporting, teachings, scholarships, research and parody but the new work must be considered “transformative.” 

A four-factor test is used to determine whether something was of fair use. In short, the four-factor test examines the transformation and use of the work, the source of the original work, how much of the work was sourced and the effect it had on the market value. Many copyright infringement cases have led to the question of fair use. Here’s how fair use has been used in the past:

How has fair use been applied in the past?

One famous case of fair use came into question when photographer Lynn Goldsmith discovered a picture of the famous musician Prince was altered by Andy Warhol and used in the magazine Vanity Fair. The photographer won the case because it was determined that the altered picture of Prince was not transformative enough and, thus, caused her to lose revenue.

Another famous musician, Ed Sheeran, was accused of infringing on Marvin Gaye’s song “Let’s Get It On.” Ed Sheeran argued that the chords used in each song were basic building blocks. In other words, the tools Ed Sheeran used for his song could be easily replicated without knowing “Let’s Get It On.”

A copyright infringement can spell disaster for any artist or business. Understanding fair use and copyright laws should be taken seriously when creating an intellectual property (IP).