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What is Fair Use?
06/01/2006 - Previous | Next | Issues Home
Sharon Housley -- As the Internet matures, users and governments are struggling to manage controversial issues, in particular those concerning content, copyright, and censorship.

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Let's face it, the Internet did not exist when the U.S. copyright laws were written; let us not forget, while many countries respect copyright laws, the Internet is global without a governing body. There are not only different laws, rules and regulations, but also jurisdiction issues.

RSS didn't exist when copyright laws were written either. While ardent supporters feel any content in a feed can be syndicated, other equally fervent publishers contend that original works are just that -- original works, and in many countries protected by copyright laws.

Much of the Internet is uncharted territory. There is no single agency that has complete control over content or censorship, and it is unlikely that there will ever be a recognized body that regulates and agrees to terms and conditions to govern the online world.

At this point, the location of Web hosts and companies owning domains dictate what laws that are observed. In other words, if a company in the U.S. or UK is violating a copyright and their host is in the U.S. or UK, it will be easy to enforce copyright laws in the event of a violation and have the Web site content pulled. If the Web site is located on a server in a region that does not recognize or acknowledge the rights of a copyright holder, the Web host will be less likely to cooperate in removing the offending content.

Regardless of whether you manage an RSS feed or syndicate existing feeds, it is a good idea to become familiar with what constitutes fair use under copyright laws. Fair use allows portions of copy written material to be reproduced or republished without the consent or permission from the copyright holder.

Determining protection can be complex. Fair use is often disputed, and it is difficult for legal scholars to understand, and even more difficult for publishers to decipher. When determining fair use there are a few questions that help determine whether a copyright violation has occurred. The questions you should ask are:

-- Is the work protected?
-- How much material is copied?
-- What is the nature of the work that was copied?
-- Is the individual reproducing the work profiting?
-- How was the original work affected by being copied?

When attempting to determine copyright protection, it is important to remember that the U.S. copyright law does not require a notice to appear in order for creative works to be protected. The fact that the work is unique and is "created" is enough to ensure protection.

Not surprisingly, creative works that contain a higher level of complexity have a higher degree of protection. The fair use doctrine is part of U.S. copyright law and it allows for publishers to incorporate some copyrighted material into works without the expressed permission of the copyright holder.

Resources on Copyright:

Copyright Debate: http://www.small-business-software.net/the-copyright-debate.htm
Copyright: http://www.copyright.gov

Keep in mind that fair use is based on the belief that the general public and media are entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials. The fair use extends to commentary on the creative works, criticism of creative works, or even the creation of a parody that relates to the copyrighted material. Understanding the intent of the copyright laws help publishers interpret them.

Sharon Housley manages marketing for FeedForAll, software for creating, editing, publishing RSS feeds, and podcasts. In addition Sharon manages marketing for NotePage, a wireless text messaging software company.

© 2006 Sharon Housley

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The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of College Central Network, Inc. or its affiliates. Reference to any company, organization, product, or service does not constitute endorsement by College Central Network, Inc., its affiliates or associated companies. The information provided is not intended to replace the advice or guidance of your legal or medical professional.

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