ARL Policy Notes
Orphan Works/Mass Digitization Roundtables: Copyright and Fair Use Myths and Realities

During the orphan works roundtables, several participants attacked fair use and libraries, misstated the purpose of the copyright system in the United States, or inaccurately portrayed the activities of HathiTrust. Here are just some of the misconceptions or myths cited at the roundtable and responses to these inaccuracies:

Myth 1: Fair use is too uncertain

Some advocates of a legislative orphan works solution argued that legislation is necessary because fair use is too uncertain or unpredictable.

Reality: Fair use is a fairly predictable doctrine

Fair use is actually fairly predictable. Professor Pamela Samuelson wrote an article in 2009 entitled, Unbundling Fair Uses which concluded that “Fair use is both more coherent and more predictable than many commentators have perceived once one recognizes that fair use cases fall into common patterns.” In fact, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) pointed to this very article when proposing that Australia adopt a fair use provision. The ALRC went on to note that fair use factors can represent “a clear principled standard [that] is more certain than an unclear complex rule.” In recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, Professor Peter Jaszi (American University) similarly stated that fair use jurisprudence is predictable and coherent.

Myth 2: Recent fair use jurisprudence consumes Section 108 and renders the provision meaningless

Some have argued that applying fair use to activities not explicitly permitted under Section 108 makes this specific limitation, as well as others that libraries rely on, meaningless. They also suggest that fair use goes too far when applied where Section 108 does not apply.

Reality: Section 108(f)(4) includes an explicit savings clause that fair use still applies

Section 108(f)(4) provides that “Nothing in this section—in any way affects the rights of fair use as provided by section 107…” The plain language of the statute could not be any more clear: “Nothing … in any way affects the rights of fair use.” It is obvious that fair use applies even where a specific limitation or exception codified under Section 108 does not, subject of course to evaluation of the four fair use factors. Some argue against the plain language by asking what the purpose of Section 108 is if libraries can simply rely on the fair use provision of Section 107. Explicit limitations and exceptions can be beneficial in providing certainty for certain activities, particularly for those that are risk adverse, or apply where fair use might not. Libraries rely on a mix of purpose specific limitations and exceptions as well as fair use in order to achieve their public service mission and respond to evolving technology.

Myth 3: Fair use being used as an excuse by the library community to perform activities not covered by specific limitations or exceptions

Several participants claimed that fair use was just an excuse being used by the library community where specific limitations do not exist. Others argued that fair use has gone too far and has made copyright the exception to fair use.

Reality: Libraries are a conscientious and risk adverse community. Fair use is being used after careful thought and based on solid legal footing

Although there are numerous purpose specific limitations and exceptions that libraries rely upon, they do not cover every situation and fair use has long been relied upon where specific exceptions do not exist. Libraries are not pirates, but rather, are trusted institutions serving a public mission to provide access to knowledge and culture within the boundaries of the law.

The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries notes that “how judges have interpreted fair use affects the community’s ability to employ fair use.” The practices of libraries are grounded in court decisions and judicial interpretations of the fair use doctrine.

Myth 4: Fair use clearly prohibits any uses that have an effect on the market

One commentator at the orphan works roundtable repeatedly argued that relying on fair use for any uses that have an affect on the market violates copyright law and is an infringement of a creator’s rights.

Reality: Fair use is a flexible standard and all four factors are considered together

Fair use is not designed to require satisfaction of all four statutory factors, but instead are considered together. The four factors include: 1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; 2) the nature of the copyrighted work; 3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and 4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value for the copyrighted work.

The Supreme Court has explicitly stated that the factors are not to “be treated in isolation from one another. All are to be explored and weighed together, in light of copyright’s purpose” Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994). Following this line of reasoning, circuit courts have confirmed that a defendant does not need to prevail on each of the four factors in order to successfully rely on fair use.

Myth 5: Copyright’s primary purpose is free expression and not to promote the public benefit

A disagreement broke out during one of the panels, with one person arguing that there is no legal basis for the argument that copyright’s primary purpose is to promote the public benefit.

Reality: The Constitution clearly states that the purpose of the intellectual property system is to “promote the progress of science of the useful arts” and the Supreme Court has repeatedly pointed to the importance of the public interest

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution sets forth the constitutional rationale for the intellectual property system: “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” The Supreme Court has repeatedly noted that this clause is both a grant of power and a limitation for Congress.

In Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, the Court cited past precedent dating back to 1932 that “The copyright law, like the patent statutes makes reward to the owner a secondary consideration” and that “The sole interest of the United States and the primary object in conferring the monopoly lie in the general benefits derived by the public from the labors of authors” (emphasis added). Additionally, the Supreme Court noted that “The immediate effect of our copyright law is to secure a fair return for an ‘author’s creative labor. But the ultimate aim is, by this incentive, to stimulate artistic creativity for the general public good” (emphasis added).

Additionally, fair use is an important limitation to copyright and has been upheld by the Supreme Court as a “First Amendment safeguard.”

Myth 6: Best practices in fair use are a contemporary/recent standard and not known by creators

One participant discounted the value of best practices because they have only been developed recently and have not withstood the test of time. Another suggested that the communities themselves did not create these best practices.

Reality: While many codes of best practices are recent, these practices contained within the codes have been used prior to being collected in a code

Codes of best practices do not appear out of thin air. The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries, for example, was created in consultation with 150 research and academic librarians across the country. The Code of Best Practices draws upon the experiences of academic and research librarians and is a compilation of their best practices. Although not every librarian might agree with every principle, limitation or enhancement, as pointed out during the roundtable by one of the principal authors of this Code, Brandon Butler, such librarians are in the minority. While the aggregation of these best practices into a single document may have occurred recently, the practices themselves are not new to many libraries.

Myth 7: Digitization without authorization is not fair use. Other than the district courts in HathiTrust and Georgia State, courts have not approved of these types of activities.

Some participants discounted the district court decisions in HathiTrust and Georgia State University, noting that these cases were still in their first round and that circuit courts had yet to decide the case. Others stated that other than these two district courts, no courts have approved of these activities as fair use

Reality: Numerous circuits have upheld mirror image copies as transformative and applied fair use

Although HathiTrust and Georgia State University do involve new issues of mass digitization, several circuit courts have addressed whether mirror image or exact copying is fair use, finding that transformative copies are protected by fair use. The Fourth Circuit in A.V. v. iParadigms, for example found that using student papers to create a plagiarism database was protected under fair use. Similarly, in Perfect 10, Inc. v. Amazon as well as Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corp., the Ninth Circuit found that using website images to create a search index constituted fair use. Likewise, the Second Circuit upheld fair use in Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley for the use of concert posters in a book. These cases provided a solid basis for the HathiTrust _and _Georgia State University decisions and suggestions that the district courts went rogue and circuits have not approved of these types of activities are incorrect; circuit after circuit has upheld mirror image copying as fair use. While it is true that both HathiTrust and Georgia State University are on appeal, there are strong legal arguments supporting the application of fair use to mass digitization in these cases.

  1. arlpolicynotes posted this
Blog comments powered by Disqus