Welcome to Fair Use Week 2016!

The following is a guest post by Nora Dethloff, assistant head of Information and Access Services at the University of Houston Libraries. This week, we’ll feature posts by members of the UH Libraries Copyright Team highlighting Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week 2016.

Fair Use Week

Fair Use Week

Fair Use Week is an annual celebration of the fair use doctrine—part of the US Copyright Law that provides limitations on a copyright owner’s exclusive rights, and by far the most flexible and empowering part of copyright law. It may also be the most misunderstood.

As a librarian and a copyright geek, I often get asked whether using something in a particular way falls under “fair use.” Most of the time, the questioner comes to me with hope in their eyes and ends their short explanation with “that’s fair use, right?” Here’s where I almost always disappoint—not by telling them no (or, at least, not usually), but rather by launching into an overly long and detailed discussion of the four factors and transformative uses. (Never, ever, expect a short answer from a librarian and copyright geek.) With fair use, there’s almost never a quick answer.

And we wouldn’t want it any other way. If the rules for using copyrighted material were totally clear-cut and proscriptive, they would become much less flexible, and would never take into account changes in technology or culture. With fair use, a little investment in time and analysis can allow us to find a way to use material to meet our needs while still respecting the creator’s rights. (Like this, for example.) Fair use allows us to be creative, analyze works, create commentary, share knowledge, and use new technologies. It’s not clear cut, it’s not quick and easy, but it’s flexible, and it’s very powerful.

So, where to go for some help in getting a good answer to the “is it fair” question? My favorite tool is the Fair Use Evaluator from the Copyright Advisory Network. This tool walks you through an analysis of the factors of fair use, and at the end creates a printable record for you. Other great tools can be found on our Copyright Research Guide. And, watch for a new post every day this week from a member of the UH Libraries Copyright Team. Happy Fair Use Week!