Fair Use

     The broadest exception to a copyright owner's exclusive rights is the "doctrine of fair use." A "fair use" is something that is permitted by law that would otherwise constitute an infringement. Unfortunately, deciding whether a use is a "fair use" is difficult because any decision requires weighing a number of factors. These factors include:

     The character of the use is often the most important factor in a "fair use" analysis. If the character of the use is related to a profit making activity, as opposed to a personal non-profit activity, this suggests that the use is not a fair use.
     However, simply because a use is related to a profit making activity does not automatically rule out the right to copy or use a work as a fair use. The other factors must always be considered. For example, if a work is a collection of facts (like a database or encyclopedia) as opposed to a fictional work, the doctrine grants broader use without infringement.
     Likewise, if the amount of copyrighted material used is small and/or does not adversely impact the copyright owner's commercial position, this will weigh in favor of fair use. Uses of unpublished works are less likely to be "fair uses" than published works. This is because the law gives a copyright owner the right to control when their work is first published.
     All of the "fair use" factors must be considered and weighed in deciding if an activity is exempt from infringement liability. As this involves making a legal judgment, questions about fair use should always be referred to an attorney experienced in copyright law.