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Finding Fair Use in Unexpected Places

We’re taking part in Copyright Week, a series of actions and discussions supporting key principles that should guide copyright policy. Every day this week, various groups are taking on different elements of the law, and addressing what’s at stake, and what we need to do to make sure that copyright promotes creativity and innovation.

Today’s theme is: 21st Century Creators: Copyright law should account for the interests of all creators, not just those backed by traditional copyright industries. YouTube creators, remixers, fan artists and independent musicians (among others) are all part of the community of creators that encourage cultural progress and innovation.

*This is a guest blog post by Jonathan Band, policybandwidth*

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In December 2016, strong endorsements of fair use appeared in somewhat unexpected places.

First, the Joint Strategic Plan (“JSP”) released by the Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator on December 12, 2016, stated that nothing in the JSP

should be interpreted as limiting the scope of exceptions and limitations, such as fair use, under U.S. copyright law. To the contrary, the basic principles that have permitted the Internet to thrive must be safeguarded, and the Strategic Plan expressly recognizes and celebrates advancements in technology. The way people use and access content – which has led to new and innovative uses of media (e.g., remixes and mashups involving music, video and the visual arts), and fair use, for example – will undoubtedly continue to evolve. We must work to foster creativity, understanding the role of exceptions and limitations as not only part of our body of laws, but as an important part of our culture. Indeed, it is the combination of strong copyright rights with a balance between the protection of rights and exceptions and limitations that encourages creativity, promotes innovation, and ensures our freedom of speech and creative expression are respected.

The JSP concludes this discussion by observing that “IP enforcement options must be crafted to allow for effective measures against actors that unlawfully prey on the works of rights holders, while ensuring that enforcement activities do not affect lawful activity.”

Second, the Copyright Office, in its December 15, 2016 report on software enabled consumer products, noted that “courts repeatedly have used the fair use doctrine to permit copying necessary to enable the creation of interoperable software products.” In support of this declaration, the report discussed the decisions in Atari v. Nintendo, Sega v. Accolade, and Sony v. Connectix, where the courts found that fair use excused the copying performed during the course of reverse engineering. The report added that “the case law generally holds that intermediate copying for purposes of reverse engineering and creation of interoperable products is, in most cases, a fair use.”

The report concluded its discussion of fair use by stating that “proper application of these principles should ensure that copyright law preserves the ability to create interoperable products and services.” In support of this statement, the report quoted the Ninth Circuit in Sega v. Accolade stating that “an attempt to monopolize the market by making it impossible for others to compete runs counter to the statutory purpose of promoting creative expression and cannot constitute a strong equitable basis for resisting the invocation of the fair use doctrine.”

Third, in an amicus brief it filed in Georgia State University electronic reserves case on December 9, 2016, the Copyright Alliance stated that it “is a staunch supporter of fair use principles, which allow for copyright to achieve it purpose without undermining the incentive to create. Its members regularly rely on these principles to create new, expressive, transformative works, consistent with the Copyright Act’s inherent purpose.”

Fair use is often referred to as a “user’s right.” But as these statements correctly indicate, fair use is a creator’s right as well. Fair use is essential to the creation of new works in all forms, including books, films, music, and software.