United States Copyright “Fair Use” Laws Are a Joke

As a blogger and journalist, the overwhelming pressure of not inadvertently violating someone’s copyrighted material is always present. In our age of frivolous lawsuits and pure stupidity, you can potentially be fined thousands or even millions of dollars for infringing on another person’s copyrighted material without the owner’s specific permission. Several choose to ignore this, especially those on Facebook or other social media websites, who constantly post pictures from movies or copy and paste something off of another website. Most of the time, they suffer no fines from doing so and are generally left alone.

However, there are hungry, vicious and disgustingly greedy people in our nation that use the copyright laws to their full advantage—to attempt take away someone’s financial future by suing them for millions of dollars. This happens all of the time and I hear about such suits in the news often. Think about the amount of greed—for example, someone wants hundreds of thousands in “damages” because they copy and pasted a brief section off of another person’s website. I agree that people shouldn’t pirate music or movies, as that is stealing, the same as robbing something from a store; but commenting on someone’s work by posting a few sentences from their website, is that stealing? Of course it’s not, and we are supposed to be “protected” from such accusations under section 107 of the copyright laws, entitled the “Fair Use” doctrine.

This section states that the general public is allowed to reproduce the work of others for the purpose of commentary, criticism, journalism, teaching, education or research, to name a few. Essentially, if you are reproducing the work in a non-malicious, non-commercial manner, with the intent of using it for educational purposes or criticism, you should “in theory” be protected by the fair use doctrine. However, you are actually not completely protected at all. Here’s an example: if you were reviewing an art gallery, and for the purpose of criticism you posted a few pictures on the internet of their gallery and wrote a negative review about it. Guess what? That’s right, if the gallery owner doesn’t like the fact that you reviewed his or her work in a negative light, then he/she can choose to claim infringement and settle it in court—costing you thousands of dollars for an attorney, and potentially even more from the “damages” they claim. The only one who can determine if something falls within the realm of fair use is a United States Judge. Here’s a direct quote from our wonderful copyright office describing the fair use policy:

“The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.” –Copyright Office of the United States (source)

Or in other words, not even our own government is coherent and intelligent enough to write laws that actually make sense and protect the public from frivolous lawsuits. So it could be potentially infringing on someone’s “copyright” by posting a few lines and writing a negative review of their work? That is pitiful and shameful. But it’s the cold hard reality of our nation. Just take a moment to think about the backwards logic and absurdity that went into creating the fair use section. Sure, they’ll lead you on to believe you are protected from infringement claims, but actually there are no clear definitions in the law that guarantees your protection. And then to make this even more pathetic, they will leave the ultimate decision of determining whether something is fair use to a judge—thereby successfully creating a section of the law which cannot be fully determined by anyone in the general public, nor by any attorney, just one person—a judge.

That’s right, our lovely “Fair Use” policy actually guarantees zero protection at all. Only in the United States of America will you find this kind of buffoonery.



Posted on February 5, 2014, in Daily Rantings, Journalism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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