Meera Nair

Posts Tagged ‘fair use’

fair use denied — part V

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2016 at 6:16 am

The conclusion to fair use denied (otherwise known as when wildest dreams collide with the creative process). For earlier installments see Part I, Part II,  Part III, and Part IV.

V. factor four and some last words

(4) The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

In the later twentieth century, this factor was deemed the most important element of a fairness analysis, with the peculiar logic that if a work could have been licensed, then it should have been licensed. A case which facilitated this avenue of thought is American Geophysical v. Texaco, whereby copying journal articles for the purpose of research was deemed infringement.[1] At appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court decision and emphasized that the presence of a means of licensing was reason to deny fair use.[2] As the Second Circuit represents the geographic region of New York, which is home to the core of American publishing, the decision carried further weight.

It is fitting then, that for nearly ten years, the Second Circuit has been instrumental in supporting a more nuanced interpretation of fair use. For instance, in Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling-Kindersley (2006) the Court showed a conspicuous disinterest in adding to licensing revenue even when mechanisms of licensing existed:

“It is indisputable that, as a general matter, a copyright holder is entitled to demand a royalty for licensing others to use its copyrighted work, and that the impact on potential licensing revenues is a proper subject for consideration in assessing the fourth factor.” (citations omitted). We have noted, however, that “were a court automatically to conclude in every case that potential licensing revenues were impermissibly impaired simply because the secondary user did not pay a fee for the right to engage in the use, the fourth fair use factor would always favor the copyright holder,” (citations omitted). …  Accordingly, we do not find a harm to BGA’s license market merely because DK did not pay a fee for BGA’s copyrighted images. [3]

In Authors Guild, Inc. v. HathiTrust (2013), the Court was emphatic that market impact was very precisely defined: “…  it is important to recall that the Factor Four analysis is concerned with only one type of economic injury to a copyright holder: the harm that results because the secondary use serves as a substitute for the original work….”[4]  More recently in Author’s Guild v. Google, Inc. (2015) which entailed unauthorized displays of snippets of copyrighted works, the Court sought to evaluate market harm by asking if the copying is: “done in a manner that results in widespread revelation of sufficiently significant portions of the original as to make available a significantly competing substitute (p.34).”[5]

Returning to the current situation, the excerpt used in this instance of play could not serve as a meaningful substitute for the song as a whole. If a complainant was to take the view that sanctioning the reproduction of snippets of works creates the conditions whereby an entire song could be assembled, I am happy to concede this point. Yes, it is theoretically possible. However, it would require a fair amount of serendipity—that a sufficient number of creators all favoured Wildest Dreams and have managed, between the group, to capture the entire 235 seconds of the song through independently chosen snippets. Yet even if such an extraordinary accumulation of creative instinct bore this fruit, it remains that the song as a whole is already sanctioned for enjoyment through, making the assembly from snippets wholly unnecessary.

To be clear, using this snippet of Wildest Dreams, has no effect upon the market for Wildest Dreams. And having carried out the four-factor analysis, as required by American statutory law, the use of the snippet of Wildest Dreams in the playful manner described is consistent with fair use.

Last words

While the historical foundation and current structure of American copyright aims to secure the right to copy, neither constitutional imperative nor statutory language has deemed copyright a means of absolute control. It seems fitting then, to return to a cogent reminder offered by Fred von Lohmann in 2008: “Copyright law strives to strike a balance between creating adequate (not maximal) incentives for the creation and distribution of expressive works, while also ensuring widespread public access to and enjoyment of such works.”[6]

As stated at the outset, the degree to which Taylor Swift may, or may not, have any influence over the management of copyright in the production of songs that she performs, is unknown. But as a performer that prizes dialogue with her fans, perhaps Swift might consider using her influence to modify enforcement of copyright, to at least comply with the directive of the Ninth Circuit that fair use must be given consideration before the issuance of a takedown/strike notice.

Quite apart from observing the law, such consideration would help safeguard a realm of play that is necessary to bring forth future generations of song writers, musicians, artists, directors and performers. Something that, we can only hope, Swift would support.



[1] In 1978, publishers in the United States formed the Copyright Clearance Center and began marketing licenses for photocopy reproduction in workplace settings. Lawsuits followed shortly thereafter; “Regular reward notices began appearing in periodicals, offering monetary compensation to those who could furnish conclusive evidence of unauthorized copying. In 1985, numerous CCC-member scientific and technical journal publishers sued Texaco, a company that purchased a CCC photocopy license but, according to the CCC, had failed to accurately report the extent of its photocopying.” See Nicole B. Cásarez, Deconstructing the Fair Use Doctrine: The Cost of Personal and Workplace Copying after American Geophysical Union v. Texaco, Inc. (1996) 6 (2) Fordham Intell. Prop. Media & Ent. L.J. 640 at 644.

[2] “Despite Texaco’s claims to the contrary, it is not unsound to conclude that the right to seek payment for a particular use tends to become legally cognizable under the fourth fair use factor when the means for paying for such a use is made easier;” see American Geophysical Union v. Texaco, Inc., 60 F.3d 913 (2d Cir. 1994) at 931-32.  Rather than attempt further appeal, Texaco opted to settle; as a consequence, the licensing regime instituted by the Copyright Clearance Center of the United States was aggressively promoted; see Cásarez above note 1, at 649.

[3] Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling-Kindersley (2006), 448 F.3d 605 (2d Circ.2006),

[4] Authors Guild, Inc. v. HathiTrust 755 F.3d at 97.

[5] Author’s Guild v. Google, Inc., No. 13-4829 (2d Cir. 2015)

[6] Fred von Lohmann, “Fair Use as Innovation Policy,” 2008 Berkeley Technology Law Journal 23 (2) 1 at 10.

fair use denied — part IV

In Posts on February 25, 2016 at 6:25 am

A copyright strike, a brief history of fair use, and the creative process; see Part I, Part II, and Part III.

IV. factors one, two and three of fair use

(1) The purpose and character of the use.

American commentary regarding the purpose of use tends to dwell upon the language of “tranformative”.[1] Entering fair use dialogue in 1994 via the Supreme Court decision Campbell v. Acuff-Rose, Inc., “transformative” was defined as “altering the original with new expression, meaning, or message.”[2] The scope of the definition has grown; now one may also probe whether the copy “served a different function from the original.”[3]

But the situation at hand does not lend itself to a claim of transformative. The use of the copy was for the same function as the original: the enjoyment of listening to the music. AL (despite being a budding filmmaker) did not have any pretensions to greater utility or message when she chose to include music with her conversation.

Fortunately, the lack of a transformative quality does not diminish the fairness of the purpose of this use. To engage in play is worthy of protection under fair use. If adults are to properly utilize the system of copyright to achieve its Constitutional imperative of “promoting the progress of science and the useful arts,” as detailed in Part III (of play and progress), it is vital to foster the spirit of play in our youth.

Thus, play is a suitable purpose and, in this instance, was undertaken with noncommercial motives.

(2) The nature of the copyrighted work.

Conventional wisdom has been that the more creative the copied work, the more this factor will not favour fair use. Returning again to Campbell (1994) the Supreme Court stated, “this factor calls for recognition that some works are closer to the core of intended copyright protection than others, with the consequence that fair use is more difficult to establish when the former works are copied.”[4] Yet,  in that same case, where the Court was evaluating a parodic-creative work, against its input-creative work, the Court also stated that the question of “nature” was of little help and declined to pronounce any assessment for this factor: “This fact, however, is not much help in this case, or ever likely to help much in separating the fair use sheep from the infringing goats in a parody case, since parodies almost invariably copy publicly known, expressive works.”[5]

Subsequently, various Appeals’ courts have emphasized that this factor neither assists with, nor detracts from, an argument of fair use.[6] The same should be said in this situation of play.

(3) The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.

It is taken as a matter of logic that the less one copies, the more likely the copying will be assessed as fair. Would-be fair users are instructed to examine the copied work from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective. Dire warnings are cast about taking the heart of a work, that one should avoid replicating the most distinctive aspects of a work. Yet for the use employed here, incorporating a recognizable song is the purpose, much like in the instance of parody as established in Campbell.

The recording industry goes to great lengths to penetrate individual consciousness with lyrics and music (the goal being to embed a desire for purchases of singles, albums, and concert tickets). But when cultural artifacts penetrate lives, those artifacts will show themselves in the personality of those lives. Sometimes the display is purely passive; for instance, the act of listening to music. But for others, the creative among us, passivity eventually gives rise to new production.

Replication and imitation are the foundations upon which future creativity is built. Judge Richard Posner of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit makes this point forcefully:

The pervasiveness of borrowing in literature is captured in Northrop Frye’s dictum that “poetry can only be made out of other poems; novels out of other novels.” Frye had some tart words about copyright. He notes the challenge to the assumptions underlying the copyright law posed by “a literature which includes Chaucer, much of whose poetry is translated or paraphrased from others, Shakespeare, whose plays sometimes follow their sources almost verbatim; and Milton, who asked for nothing better than to steal as much as possible out of the Bible.”[7]

The instinct to replicate and imitate needs to be nurtured early in life if those individuals are to become creative adults.

For the purposes of a conventional four-factor analysis of AL’s situation, the quantitative/qualitative aspects illustrate a minimal taking of Wildest Dreams. Only 36 seconds of the song were copied, and of that only 17 seconds were clearly audible. Of those 17 seconds, the first 12 seconds were purely instrumental. In the remaining five seconds of clarity, a listener would have heard the following lyrics: “He said let’s get out of this town – Drive out of the city.”[7]

At best, those lyrics would be described as one complete sentence and one sentence fragment. The audible quantity of music and lyrics represent a negligible portion of the song and thus ought to be considered fair. And even if one must consider the entire 36 seconds, such a snippet should comfortably be considered fair in light of both the purpose of play (above) and consideration of the effect upon the market as per the fourth statutory factor, to be covered in tomorrow’s concluding installment.

Canadian readers may be relieved to know that our courts acknowledge that evaluation of quantity should be considered in light of the prevailing purpose and the work under consideration. For instance, it is implausible that using a partial quantity of an image would serve any purpose; one either takes all of it or none of it. Copying an entire work for parody or private study may be reasonable, given the nature of the use. Whereas copying an entire work for the purpose of published criticism, may not be appropriate. Our Supreme Court has emphasized many, many times that an evaluation of fair dealing (or other exceptions) is always a contextual investigation. Of course, “play” in Canada is well protected by a number of avenues; see Part I.



[1] In the wake of the Ninth Circuit’s instruction to copyright owners to consider fair use before issuing a takedown notice, Jeff Roberts writes: “ … for practical purposes, the deciding factors are usually whether the new work is transformative and if it will impact the market for the original work.” See “Mom wins huge fair use ruling in Prince “dancing baby” case,Fortune, 24 September 2015.  More recently, see Emily Hong argues that a comparative creation of hers is “transformative and doesn’t necessarily offer a substitutable good.” See “What Beyoncé and Justin Bieber taught me about fair use,” Slate, 25 January 2016.  (For any Canadians reading this, our Supreme Court has never required transformative use; see Meera Nair, “no surprise“.)

[1] Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994).

[2] Authors Guild, Inc. v. HathiTrust 755 F.3d at 97.

[3] See note 2 above.

[4] Ibid.

[5] For instance, Author’s Guild v. Hathi Trust (2nd Circuit 2013); Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc., vs. BLEEM LLC, (9th Circuit 2000); and Triangle Publications, Inc. vs. Knight-Rider Newspapers, Inc. (5th Circuit 1980).

[6] Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957) at 95-104, quoted by William M. Landes & Richard A. Posner, The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2003) at 59-60.

[7] Wildest Dreams is available for viewing and listening at, and the lyrics are available from

fair use denied — part III

In Posts on February 24, 2016 at 5:32 am

For earlier installments of fair use denied, a story of wildest dreamssee Part I and Part II.

III. of play and progress

Fair use’s flexible language is often lauded as the reason behind the United States’ enviable record of innovation. As a consequence, other countries view a flexible exception as a style worth emulating.[1] However, such adoration of fair use overlooks one vital aspect of creative success—the process which leads to a creative mind. And while we cannot definitively prescribe that process, we can situate the process within the atmosphere of intellectual property.

The conventional premise of intellectual property rights is that such rights enhance the likelihood of creative effort by assuring individuals that their work will not be for naught. Yet the asserted causality between advances in art, science and technology, and heightened levels of intellectual property protection, may be more rhetoric than substance.[2] History offers compelling illustration of creative epochs which were accompanied by little or no intellectual property protections.[3]

Taking our cue from history, it is reasonable to assert that the process of creativity is affected by the ability of individuals to engage with existing/past creations; that is, to act freely upon informal or casual creative impulses. Such freedom is not something that may be turned on or off at will, it is an internal instinct shaped by the surrounding culture of thought. The capacity to let one’s mind roam, to see something that others do not, to explore without conscious objective–to embark upon play—is essential to developing the creative process.

This theme was articulated by Julie Cohen more than a decade ago. While eschewing the proposition that exceptions are users’ rights, Cohen emphasizes that any theory of authors’ rights must be informed by an accompanying theory of the user. Cohen writes: “Both copyright law and policy have shown little interest in understanding the processes by which these roles are performed, nor in inquiring what users need to perform their roles in a way that optimizes the performance of the copyright system as a whole (348).”[4]

Denoting the user as a “situated user”, Cohen makes plain that appropriation of pre-existing cultural goods are part and parcel of the self-development of individuals. The path to creativity includes consuming pre-existing works in a variety of ways. From the humble copy, to reworking that copy, to a seemingly original creation, the route to creativity necessarily includes those intermediary destinations. The stimuli that provoke eventual creative activity are varied; friends, family, teachers, formal and informal learning, advertising, popular culture – all contribute to an awareness of existing cultural goods. Exposure to, and re-communication of those goods, might provoke only a fleeting, partial inspiration which will not take tangible form for many years to come. But for that eventual, socially-prized, creation to come into being, the system of copyright must protect what Cohen describes as play of culture:

… process by which culture bends and folds unpredictably, bringing new groups, artifacts and practices into unexpected juxtaposition.  … [It] emerges from the full spectrum of behaviour of situated users. Consumption, communication, self-development, and creative play, merge and blur into one another, and the play of culture is the result (373).

An overt consciousness of the supposed-illegality of using others’ works must condemn future society to a very narrow realm of creative discovery. Whereas, if individuals are free to explore with the enthusiasm of play, the capacity to foster ideas and cause development in ways that cannot be predicted, is heightened.

But “the Child is father of the Man;”[5] to carry the sense of play into adulthood, it needs first to be protected in childhood. Part IV continues tomorrow.



[1] In 2007, Israel imported much of American fair use into its domestic law. “(a) Fair use of a work is permitted for purposes such as: private study, research, criticism, review, journalistic reporting, quotation, or instruction and examination by an educational institution. ­­­(b) In determining whether a use made of a work is fair within the meaning of this section the factors to be considered shall include, inter alia, all of the following: (1) The purpose and character of the use; (2) The character of the work used; (3) The scope of the use, quantitatively and qualitatively, in relation to the work as a whole; (4) The impact of the use on the value of the work and its potential market. (c) The Minister may make regulations prescribing conditions under which a use shall be deemed a fair use;” see Copyright Act [Isr.], 5768-2007, 2007 LSI 34 (2007) at § 19.
In 2011, Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation sought submissions concerning copyright amendment, with an express interest in examining “ …US style ‘fair use’ doctrine to see if it would be appropriate in an Irish/EU context.” Interestingly enough, the terms also stated that if suitable changes were not possible under the current constraints of EU copyright directives, Ireland would make recommendations for changes to those EU directives. <> website no longer available. However, press coverage remains; see John Kennedy, “Radical copyright reform law to boost Ireland’s digital economy?” SiliconRepublic 9 May 2011.
Also in 2011, the Government of the United Kingdom explored fair use fulsomely. While electing to refrain from moving forward with a flexible exception (a decision influenced by strong opposition from the creative industries), it publicly acknowledged the merits of a flexible exception; see Ian Hargreaves, Digital Opportunity—A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth, May 2011.
Meanwhile, in a gentle progression of events which began in 2002, Canada has quietly erased the rigidity of fair dealing and brought it very close to fair use. See Michael Geist, “Fairness Found – How Canada Quietly Shifted from Fair Dealing to Fair Use,” The Copyright Pentalogy: How the Supreme Court of Canada Shook The Foundations of Canadian Copyright Law (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2013). Another Canadian asset in terms of flexibility is its exception for non-commercial user-generated content; for details see Peter K. Yu, “Can the Canadian UGC Exception Be Transplanted Abroad?”(2014) Intellectual Property Journal 26 175-203.

[2] Calls to remove or lighten the prevailing structure of copyright are routine today; but those calls originated over one century ago. The presumption that monopoly rights were the best mechanism to support creative endeavor was so contentious that a Royal Commission ordered examination of the issue in the late 19th century. While the Commissioners ultimately kept the monopoly structure, opinions were diverse and heated; see Paul Saint-Amour, The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003).

[3] Meera Nair, “Fair Dealing at a Crossroads” in ed. Michael Geist, From Radical Extremism to Balanced Copyright—Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2010) 90 at 91.

[4] Julie Cohen, “The Place of the User in Copyright Law” (2005) Vol 74 Fordham Law Review p.348.  The lack of genuine interest in users continue today; policy makers provide lip-service attention to the necessity of balance in the system of copyright but refrain from actively supporting it. See Michael Geist’s analysis of the difference between implementation of rights of owners and rights of users as drafted in the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

[5] William Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold”, The Complete Poetical Works (introduction by John Worley) (London: Macmillan, 1888).

fair use denied — part II

In Posts on February 23, 2016 at 6:04 am

For the first installment of this story involving Wildest Dreams and creativity-in-the-making, see Part I of fair use denied.

II. fair use — its origins and intentions

The contemporary bundle of rights comprising copyright is rooted in the customs of 16th century English publishing guilds. Their practices shaped what is often referred to as the first copyright act, the Statute of Anne. Entering into English law  in 1710[1], English colonies, of both loyalist and revolutionary tendencies, drew from the motherland when developing their own jurisprudence.

Eventually, the offshoot nations put their own stamp upon the system of copyright, including the exceptions within the system which  protect individual, unauthorized use of copyrighted works. While Commonwealth countries tended to maintain the English term and structure of fair dealing, in the United States, the exception evolved under the label of fair use.

Initially, fair use was applied only through common law practice; its genesis is usually attributed to Folsom v. Marsh (1841).[2] The dispute concerned two biographies of George Washington; in the process of adjudication Justice Story offered the following instruction to determine what is (or is not) fair use: “In short, we must often, in deciding questions of this sort, look to the nature and objects of the selections made, the quantity and value of the materials used, and the degree in which the use may prejudice the sale, or diminish the profits, or supersede the objects, of the original work.”[3]

This structure shaped fair use’s entry into American law in 1976.[4] Section 107 states:

… the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall 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 of the copyrighted work.[5]

The intent of the then-Congress was that fair use should retain the flexibility necessary to safeguard uses yet unknown. An instructional guide prepared by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress explicitly draws attention to this necessity:

Section 107 is somewhat vague since it would be difficult to prescribe precise rules to cover all situations. … Section 107 makes it clear that the factors a court shall consider shall “include” [the four factors].  … [T]he terms “including” and “such as” are illustrative and not limitative. The legislative reports state that section 107 as drafted is intended to restate the present judicial doctrine; it is not intended to change, narrow or enlarge it in any way.[6]

According to a House Report about the 1976 Act, “… since the doctrine [of fair use] is an equitable rule of reason, no generally applicable definition is possible, and each case raising the question must be decided on its own facts (emphasis mine).”[7]

Furthermore, the four factors were to be considered in unity against the objectives of the system of copyright itself. Those objectives are clearly stated in the American Constitution: “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.”[8]

But Progress takes root in Play. Part III continues tomorrow.



[1] 8 Anne c. C19 (1709/1710). It must be emphasized that for all the pathos (then and now) about copyright serving to protect starving authors, the statutory language was designed principally to keep order in the book trade. This period of time has received extensive coverage; Lyman Ray Patterson and Mark Rose are among the founders of this canon of scholarly work. See L.R.Patterson, Copyright in Historical Perspective (Nashville: Vanderbilt University, 1968) and M.Rose, Authors and Owners – the Invention of Copyright (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).

[2] Folsom v. Marsh  9 F. Cas. 342, (C.C.D. Mass. 1841) [Folsom]. However “… many of the points raised in Folsom were anticipated two years earlier by Justice Story in Gray v. Russell;”see William Patry, The Fair Use Privilege in Copyright Law, 2d ed. (Washington DC: The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., 1995) at 19.

[3] Folsom at 348.

[4] That fair use eventually became a component within statutory law was not a foregone conclusion; the process took considerable time and discussion. In 1958, at the behest of the Subcommittee on Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights, Alan Latman authored a study concerning fair use and raised two questions: (i) should fair use should be codified into law; and, (ii) if so, to what detail? His work was circulated to an advisory panel of nine copyright experts, eight of whom argued that fair use should not be codified with any attempt at specificity. See Alan Latman, “Fair Use of Copyrighted Works, Study No. 14,” Copyright Law Revision, Studies Prepared for the Subcomm. On Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights, Comm. on the Judiciary, 86th Cong. 2d Sess., (Comm. Print 1960).

[5] 17 U.S.C. § 107 (2000 & Supp. IV 2004).

[6] Marybeth Peters (Senior Attorney Advisor), General Guide to the Copyright Act of 1976 (September 1977), United States Copyright Office, Library of Congress, at 8:2,

[7] H.R. Report No. 94-1476, 94th Cong. 2d Sess. 65(1976). Also cited in Halpern et al, Fundamentals of United States Intellectual Property Law: Copyright, Patent, Trademark, 3rd edition (Wolters Kluwer: The Netherlands, 2011) p.18.

[8] U.S. Constitution, Art. I, § 8, cl. 8.

fair use denied — a five part series

In Posts on February 22, 2016 at 6:06 am

Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week is upon us; there will be much lauding of these two exceptions over the next five days. Yet there remains one significant barrier to applying fair use in the United States. A barrier which does not arise in Canada.

I. fair use or privacy, but not both

Some time ago, a colleague came to me with a concern. A video created by her daughter, and posted to her YouTube channel, had been removed (due to an allegation of copyright infringement) and a strike had been marked against the account. The daughter, AL, is an amateur filmmaker. With patience and creative instinct, she crafts stop-action photography films. Some are set to music. In this instance though, the video removed was not one of those creations; it was a recording of a life event, with some popular music playing in the background. AL did not mind the loss of the video, but was deeply troubled at being labelled as a copyright infringer.

The question posed to me was: can anything be done about this?

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operating in Canada need only inform their subscribers of copyright concerns. Canadian ISPs are not obliged to do the bidding of copyright owners who may or may not have a legitimate complaint. The difficulty with the American system is that their ISPs risk liability if they do not heed an allegation of copyright infringement. The system as a whole operates as guilty-until-proven-innocent, which is diametrically opposed to our Canadian presumption of innocent-until-proven-guilty. Moreover, to appeal a takedown/strike by YouTube, one must submit a counter-notification through YouTube to the very party that has claimed infringement. That these situations are not resolved by an impartial entity runs counter to a vital principle of the rule of law.

In response to AL’s distress at “having done something wrong,” I assured her that she did nothing wrong. Admittedly, it is easier to make that assessment in Canada; our Copyright Act has many options through which to protect unauthorized uses of materials, ranging from the threshold at which copyright takes effect (the substantiality of the reproduction), the allowance of incidental use, the ambit afforded by a large and liberal interpretation of fair dealing, and our express encouragement of usage of copyrighted works in the creation of non-commercial compositions.[1]  Nevertheless, American fair use has ample room to do the same. In fact, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently instructed copyright owners to consider fair use before issuing a take-down notice.[2]

But it remains that to argue against a takedown/strike, requires laying one’s identity bare. In this situation, I felt distinctly uneasy about drawing attention to AL’s portfolio. According to YouTube, multiple strikes could result in the loss of the account itself. This is not encouraging; the odds of satisfactory resolution appear low while the risk of scrutiny and punishment rises. I did not want to bring further condemnation down upon AL’s young shoulders.

So I did not suggest proceeding with the counter-notification. However, for all parents, in this five-part series I offer up my take on why such creations are law-abiding on both sides of the 49th parallel, and, why our youth should be encouraged to make them.

As noted above, we have more latitude in Canada to  create and post such work. It has been suggested to me that arguing legitimacy under Canadian law is one way to dispute a takedown/strike notice. However, that approach has no guarantee of success anymore than claiming fair use. And since this situation is an outcome of American copyright interpretation, what follows is structured by American law and custom.

Establishing the facts

AL received a copyright strike in response to a video she created and posted to YouTube, describing an outing with a new friend. In the background of her narration and video, is a portion of the song Wildest Dreams sung by Taylor Swift. Of the total 37 seconds that were recorded, only 17 seconds are clearly audible when the video is played.

Many people are involved in the production of commercially released music including composers, lyricists, musicians and singers, all of whom will have some degree of rights (copyright or performers’ rights). The complex web of rights may be assigned through contract to a single entity; often the publisher assumes those rights. But, that is not necessarily always the case. And when a song is promoted through the use of a music video, even more people are involved, including directors and other performers, with even more rights to be sorted out.

But popular press tends to focus upon performers and (perhaps unintentionally) cultivate the impression that songs belong to their performer. For instance, coverage of the removal of Swift’s back catalogue from Spotify conveyed the impression that ownership was Swift’s and identified Big Machine Music as her label. The video of Wildest Dreams is clearly marked “(c) 2015 Big Machine Records, LLC.” Yet when the video was released, and criticized for romanticizing colonialism, the press conveyed the impression that the work belonged to Swift (i.e. see The Atlantic, the guardian, and CNN).

As to whether Swift has partial, or complete control, with respect to musical/artistic development, or management/enforcement of copyright, we do not know. The only information we have is that the complainant was ifpi, an international organization, based in the United Kingdom, which represents the recording industry.

It should be noted that the website provides 30-second previews of songs performed by Taylor Swift, and the Wildest Dreams video is sanctioned by its copyright owner(s) to be enjoyed in its entirety via No doubt the first rebuttal to these facts will be that copyright law is rooted in reproduction, thus an authorization to listen is not an authorization to reproduce. But fair use beckons.

However, before one can employ fair use, fair use itself must be established. Part Two continues tomorrow.



[1] Section 29.21 of the Copyright Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42) is an exception which protects amateur creators. I have written about this many times, for instance see poems out of other poems.

[2] Stephanie Lenz v. Universal Music (2015) D.C. No. 5:07-cv-03783-JF.  Although, drawing from AL’s situation, it appears doubtful that foreign entities will give much attention to an American court’s dictates.



no surprise

In Posts on October 29, 2015 at 7:11 pm

Two weeks ago we received the unremarkable news that Google Books had prevailed at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; that the copying of entire books in order to provide information about the books, including displaying snippets of content, was fair use. I say “unremarkable” as the outcome was expected. The Second Circuit was the appellate court that sent this dispute back to a district court expressly because the district court had not considered fair use. After due consideration, in November 2013 the district court declared that Google Books’ operations fell within fair use. That triggered an appeal from the Authors Guild (despite the fact that the appeal would be heard by the same Second Circuit).

The present decision of the Second Circuit was penned by Judge Pierre Leval, who might be best known as the founding father of the relevance of “transformative” in American fair use dialogue. It should not surprise anyone that Leval emphasized the expanded utility wrought by Google Books. Placing the decision firmly upon the American constitutional foundation for copyright, namely that the system of copyright must “promote the progress of science and the useful arts,” Leval writes: “the purpose of Google’s copying of the original copyrighted books is to make available significant information about those books, permitting a searcher to identify those that contain a word or term of interest, as well as those that do not include reference to it (p.22, emphasis in original).”

Judge Leval carries out the four-factor analysis, as per statutory custom in the United States. Mike Masick (Techdirt) provides detailed coverage of the analysis, noting in particular that the United States has yet another clear indication that commerciality does not impede fair use and that the use of bogey man arguments offered without any evidence (such as the possibility that would-be hackers could obtain the complete scans of the books) have no place in a serious consideration of law. Further analysis and coverage of this matter by Patricia Aufderheide (Center for Media and Social Impact), Brandon Butler (American University) and Kevin Smith (Duke University) all make for very good reading.

From a Canadian perspective the decision is a reminder that the United States’ culture of fair use is distinct from our culture of fair dealing. American fair use history was marked by an unfortunate period of time where commerciality and market impact became the touchstones upon which fair use was determined. Consequently, what was considered world-wide as the best exception, by virtue of flexible language that could accommodate futures unknown, lay inert in the United States. It has taken the country decades to restore fair use as a meaningful exception within the system of copyright, and establish that fair use is not simply a means to address market failure.

(Perhaps it was through observing this unfortunate path, that our Supreme Court took pains to safeguard Canada’s development of fair dealing with a strict reminder that the presence of licensing was not sufficient to deny fair dealing nor was market impact the most important factor of analysis.)

In 2010, I dealt with this portion of American fair use history in some detail. In “Fair Dealing at a Crossroads,” From Radical Extremism to Balanced Copyright (ed. Michael Geist), I wrote:

The prominence of commerciality, through the first and fourth factors, was set in the 1984 Sony decision, even though that action was inconsis­tent with the statutory language of the law. Although the United States’ Supreme Court sought to correct its mistakes, with some success in 1994, lower courts continued to place undue emphasis upon commerciality (p. 92, citations omitted).

The success of 1994 was Campbell v. Acuff Rose Music, Inc, a fair use dispute over a commercially released parody. Favoring fair use, the American Supreme Court of the day sought a way to blunt the emphasis upon commerciality and gave rise to the importance of “transformative” as “… altering the original with new expression, meaning, or message. The more transformative the new work, the less will be the significance of other factors, like commercialism … .” Their reasoning drew from the work of Judge Leval.

Since 1994, American courts have systematically returned to the language around “transformative,” giving fair use a reasonable ambit of application and chance of success, as befitting a measure that has been referred to as providing “breathing space within the confines of copyright.” But while the language of “transformative” is a key feature of American dialogue, Canadians are fortunate not to be so reliant on terminology.

Our leading decisions concerning fair dealing focused upon exact reproduction of works (whole or in part) often with the same purpose that the works were intended for at their inception. By virtue of a contextual analysis, our Supreme Court declared those circumstances as giving rise to fair dealing. True, the reasoning employed would meld along the lines of expanded utility but we need not frame our reasoning to match a particular phrase. Our Supreme Court asks us to examine uses of copyrighted work broadly, with a scope of inquiry tailored to the situation at hand. Fair dealing rests upon the entirety of that analysis.

no permission needed

In Case Reviews, Posts on September 26, 2015 at 7:08 am

On 18 September 2015, MIT Libraries issued an announcement: “Using figures in new scholarly articles just got easier.”

The article elaborates, through contracts signed with a number of publishers, MIT authors may use “with appropriate credit, figures, tables and brief excerpts … in the Authorized User’s own scientific, scholarly and educational works.”

The list of publishers reads like a Debrett’s of publishing: Sage, Springer, Taylor & Francis, Wiley and Elsevier. While to some this may be good news, it is disturbing if it means that fair use has been all but formally renounced by prominent academic publishers. To emphasize that, due to contracts agreed upon, permission is no longer needed only reinforces the belief/expectation that permission was needed to begin with.

Even for those MIT authors/authorized users who may avail themselves of those contracts, if desired content is depicted as belonging to another copyright owner, then “permission should be sought.” And what of non-MIT authors?

Entirely missing from the announcement is any recognition and support of exceptions to copyright. True, this is how many publishers operate. But that academic publishers are so unwilling to engage fulsomely with exceptions is more than disappointing. It undercuts the legitimacy of exceptions even though academic publication has almost an endemic claim to unauthorized use as per exceptions provided by law.

Since this pertains to the United States, fair use is the exception of note. Its absence is doubly-perplexing given that fair use has been doing quite well by American courts (for instance, see here) since descending to its nadir toward the end of the twentieth century.

To that point: one day before MIT’s announcement, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit offered a pertinent reminder that fair use protects unauthorized use of imagery even in matters less noble than those associated to scholarly work. The dispute centred upon an unflattering photograph, used by a third party via a number of blogposts, to lampoon and criticize the person depicted, and the efforts of that person to suppress those uses. Detailed accounts are provided by professor of law Eric Goldman (writing for Forbes) and Kevin Smith (Director for the Office of Scholarly Communication at Duke University).

The Eleventh Circuit affirms what a magistrate and district court had earlier declared, that the uses of the photograph were fair use. The four-factor analysis (as required by American law) was duly followed and might spark some discussion about the fairness of use for those who wish to use a figure, table or excerpt without authorization in a scholarly publication.

Paraphrasing from the decision:

  1. Purpose and character of the work (pages 6-8): The use of the photograph was deemed primarily educational (the author of the blog “sought to warn and educate others about the alleged nefariousness” of the person) and noncommercial (the author of the blog received no remuneration for the posts). The use was also deemed transformative as “… Courts often find such uses [of faithfully reproduced works] transformative by emphasizing the altered purpose or context of the work, as evidenced by the surrounding commentary or criticism.” Thus factor one favours fair use.
  2. Nature of the work (pages 8-9): With reference to American precedent, this factor hinges upon whether the work had been previously published, and, where the work lay on a scale ranging from factual to fantasy. While recognizing that photography is often an artistic endeavor, in this instance the photograph was deemed a capture of a moment – a visual factual record. Further distribution of such works favours fair use.
  3. Amount of the work used (page 10): Too often it is assumed that since an image is used in its entirety, permission must be sought. The Eleventh Circuit firmly discarded that view, “Though ten blog posts reproduced the Photo in its entirety and without alteration, to copy any less of the image would have made the picture useless [to the story]. … As such, the third factor neither weighs for nor against a finding of fair use.”
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for the work (pages 11-12): This matter was settled quickly; the complainant had purchased the copyright in the photograph expressly to suppress its future publication, thereby signaling a willful disinterest in any future market. Thus, the contribution of this factor favored fair use.

It is worth pointing out the Eleventh Circuit offered a cogent reminder that market harm must be examined as: “… whether… the use would cause substantial economic harm such that allowing [the use] would frustrate the purposes of copyright by materially impairing … incentive to publish the [prior work].” There is considerable latitude in such assessment.

Particularly as readers were instructed at the outset, that the four factors are to be read together. Therefore, the use of previously published figures, tables, or excerpts that may well be factual in nature, surrounded by commentary or criticism, in support of a new scholarly work (otherwise known as furthering research, education, public wellbeing, etc. — all those matters that go into promoting progress in a society) has a strong probability of being deemed fair.

However, non-MIT authors may have a more difficult time voicing such an argument if the academic publishing community has officially decided such uses are only permitted after contractual discussion. While it is understandable that an institutional press would wish to smooth the way forward for its own authors, and to protect themselves from litigation by other publishers, it would be more laudable if institutional presses could take the path of supporting best practices that fulfill fair use.

Coincidentally, also on 17 September, during an event hosted by American University Washington College of Law, the tenth anniversary of the start of the Best Practices of Fair Use Project was celebrated. Renowned professor of law Peter Jaszi chaired the event, and spoke passionately about the theory behind the project:

When members of a practice community come together …, talk about their fair use rights, and the appropriate employment of those rights in furtherance of their mission, then the record of those conversations and the consensus to which those practitioners come can be in itself a powerful … force for change. It not only documents but it also influences …

Ten years on, with the aid of Jaszi’s colleague/co-author Patricia Aufderheide (Director of the Center for Media & Social Impact), over a dozen fair use best practices’ documents have been developed on a wide range of topics, including documentary film, visual arts, orphan works, poetry, and teaching/research/study. We can only hope that these documents might yet become compulsory reading at every institutional press.

Feb 23-27, celebrating fair dealing

In Posts on February 19, 2015 at 9:23 pm

February 23-27 marks Fair Use Week in the United States, and thus by association, Fair Dealing Week for other jurisdictions. The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is promoting a community celebration of these limits upon copyright that enable the system of copyright to live up to its mandate to promote creativity, advance knowledge and bolster innovation, and reap just rewards not only for the creators involved but for the creators yet to come as well. ARL pays particular attention to Canada: “… in Canada, fair dealing is a critical right of the user intended to facilitate balance in copyright law and accommodate freedom of expression.”

Readers may remember that user rights gained prominence in Canada in 2004, via CCH Canadian. Writing for the Supreme Court of Canada, in a decision supported with unanimity, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin states:

The fair dealing exception, like other exceptions in the Copyright Act, is a user’s right. In order to maintain the proper balance between the rights of a copyright owner and users’ interests, it must not be interpreted restrictively (para.48).

The Supreme Court has consistently reminded Canadians that copyright is a set of limited rights, and that those limits are critical to the proper functioning of the system as a whole. Yet, even after 11 years of well-articulated, thoughtful reminders, it remains that copyright is often perceived as a measure of absolute control. Such perception is cultivated perhaps unintentionally by people/organizations who have a genuine desire to behave in a law-abiding manner and thus restrict behaviour that need not be restricted. With time, we may hope that such misunderstanding will subside. More potent and damaging is the conduct of members within the publishing community who actively promote misinformation.

For instance, consider the following notice that graces the frontmatter of far too many books:

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

If one unpacks this passage, the first sentence is correct. All the rights offered within copyright law have been reserved to the benefit of the copyright holder. At this juncture though, one should remember that extensive as those rights are, copyright holders are not permitted the right to refuse exceptions defined within the same law.  Copyright holders cannot pick the parts of the Copyright Act they wish to accept, and the parts which are to be dispensed with. But the sentence that follows in the passage tries to do exactly that; it categorically denies unauthorized use, despite the fact that fair dealing, fair use, and a host of other exceptions, can allow reproduction and transmission, by whatever means, without the consent of the publisher.


Update – February 28, 2015

Fair Dealing / Fair Use week sparked an outpouring of dialogue about our exceptions for unauthorized use. My favorite was Jonathan Band’s description of the many sightings of fair use in the daily life of a legislative assistant.

And, it was with great pleasure that I contributed the following posts to Harvard Library and the Office for Scholarly Communication, and University of Toronto Scholarly Communications and Copyright Office. My thanks to Kyle Courtney and Daniela Cancilla for the invitations to participate with their respective universities.

North of 49, posted February 24, 2015: “The proximity of the United States to Canada occasionally leads to some confusion north of the 49th parallel; in common parlance, fair use eclipses fair dealing. I cannot resist reminding others: we are Canadian; our exception is fair dealing. Yet it is only appropriate to also say that Canada has benefited greatly by American fair use. From our vantage point, we were able to appreciate the opportunity provided by flexibility in the language of exceptions, suffer the worst of fair use’s growing pains by proxy, and step ahead of such pain in our own development of exceptions.” To read more, see link or pdf.

Fair Dealing: Protector of the Public Domain, posted February 27, 2015“This past week marked Fair Dealing / Fair Use Week 2015. It was pleasing to see many Canadians within the educational community taking interest in our system of copyright. But, I confess to some disappointment that this interest should have blossomed only belatedly – after 2012. True, in that year the Copyright Act was revised with increased scope given to exceptional uses of copyrighted material. Also true, in 2012 the Supreme Court handed down two more decisions emphasizing the merits of fair dealing. But we cannot lose sight of the fact those decisions were based upon our previous Act which did not include any provision for “education.” Nor can we forget our Court began speaking to the importance of fair dealing a full decade earlier, emphasizing that fair dealing is our mode of entry into the public domain.” To read more, see link or pdf.

second circuit stays on message

In Case Reviews on June 15, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit added to an already-healthy body of American affirmative decisions concerning fair use. In this instance, Authors Guild, Inc. v. HathiTrust, the scanning of entire books to allow for a full-text search of the content was given resounding support. In the process, the judges further explored the nuance of the commercial and transformative considerations inherent to discussion of fairness. Moreover, as Pamela Samuelson observes and Kevin Smith draws explicit attention to, the decision shows a coalescing of opinion with respect to transformative use among multiple circuits. The end result is strong guidance in the United States, and a discussion which benefits any jurisdiction that must mediate between control and use of copyrighted works, via the language of fairness.

Like the Google Books project (see here for my coverage of that district court decision), the roots of this case were established in 2004 with a scanning project in partnership with Google. Briefly, several American research universities arranged to have their library book holdings scanned and stored in electronic form. HathiTrust was established to operate the HathTrust Digital Library (HDL); currently, over 80 colleges, universities and non-profit organizations can apply full text search capability to over 10 million works spanning a myriad of languages and subject matter. But, unlike Google Books, snippets of content are not made available; instead, members can only obtain bibliographic and referential information. Exception is made only for the print-disabled; under such circumstances, content is provided.

It is more than curious that authors and their representatives should take issue with this venture; any project that enables people to find information about books, become interested in them, and possibly acquire them, would seem to be of benefit to authors. Apparently not so. The Authors Guild and its allies brought litigation forward. Losing on the grounds of fair use at the district court in 2012, the Guild pressed on with an appeal. And now that too has been declared a loss. James Grimmelmann, (Professor of Law, University of Maryland) succinctly evaluates the decision:

… mass digitization to make a search engine is fair use, and so is giving digital copies to the print-disabled. The opinion on appeal is sober, conservative, and to the point; it is the work of a court that does not think this is a hard case.

But the fun is in the details. As readers likely know, four factors come into consideration with fair use.

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

Consistent with other fair use decisions of the past few years, transformative use is a key determinant. As such, the meaning of transformative was the necessary starting point. The judges turned to the American standard bearer of fair use case law, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose (1994) which draws from the writings of Pierre Leval (attorney and subsequent judge):

A use is transformative if it does something more than repackage or republish the original copyrighted work. The inquiry is whether the work “adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning or message . … [T]he more transformative the new work, the less will be the significance of other factors that may weigh against a finding of fair use” (p.16-17).

Set upon this language, the analysis gets off to a brisk start:

The creation of a full‐text searchable database is a quintessentially transformative use. …  the result of a word search is different in purpose, character, expression, meaning, and message from the page (and the book) from which it is drawn (p.18).

The decision includes a plethora of examples of transformative uses, taken not only from the corpus of the Second Circuit but also from the Ninth and Fourth Circuits (p.19).

(2) The nature of the copyrighted work

This factor can be troublesome by virtue of the vagueness of the language. Whether the source of copying was unpublished or published, whether the work was creative or utilitarian, have been fodder for discussion. But as fair use has evolved, this factor is likely to be set aside when transformative use is established (p.20).

(3) The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

The Judges remind their readers that the position of the Second Circuit is: “[t]here are no absolute rules as to how much of a copyrighted work may be copied and still be considered a fair use (p.20).” As sufficient precedent exists which sanction the copying of entire works; they do not have to dwell too much upon this issue:

In order to enable the full‐text search function, the Libraries, as we have seen, created digital copies of all the books in their collections. Because it was reasonably necessary for the HDL to make use of the entirety of the works in order to enable the full‐text search function, we do not believe the copying was excessive (p.20-21).

Adjudication of fairness sets bounds to words like necessary and reasonable by virtue of the use the source work was put to. It is increasingly unlikely that any future court will be swayed by mere quantification of the amount used.

However, as the Guild took issue with the copies made to achieve technological efficiency and disaster preparedness, the Judges were required to devote some time to what ought to be routinely accepted by now – that copying happens when infrastructure is predicated upon digital technology:

 HDL’s services are offered to patrons through two servers, one at the University of Michigan (the primary server) and an identical one at the University of Indiana (the “mirror” server) … According to the HDL executive director, the “existence of a[n] [identical] mirror site allows for balancing the load of user web traffic to avoid overburdening a single site, and each site acts as a back‐up … in the event that one site were to cease operation (for example, due to failure caused by a disaster, or even as a result of routine maintenance).” (p.21)

The use of two encrypted tape backups was also deemed an appropriate precaution, should disaster bring about large-scale data loss at both servers.

(4) The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Here, the judges’ language bodes particularly well for fair users, but not so well for the larger avarice of some copyright holders:

…  it is important to recall that the Factor Four analysis is concerned with only one type of economic injury to a copyright holder: the harm that results because the secondary use serves as a substitute for the original work…. In other words, under Factor Four, any economic “harm” caused by transformative uses does not count because such uses, by definition, do not serve as substitutes for the original work (emphasis mine, p.22).

Thus, despite the Guild’s claim that the use of each book represents a lost license-to-search-the-book, the judges determined that no economic harm has been inflicted as full-text search capability is not a substitute for the original works.

Grimmelmann observes the lack of reference to American Geophysical (1996) but its ghost is there. That case contributed greatly to fair use’s dysfunctional period in the United States, when any use was deemed unfair because it could have been licensed. (Canada has avoided such circular reasoning; our Supreme Court nipped that in the bud with its insistence during CCH Canadian (2004) that the presence of a license was irrelevant to a decision of fair dealing.)

The route by which the Court rebuts the lost-license argument is puzzling. In the initial explanation of the four factors (p.16-17), the fourth factor is deemed the “most important” (citing Harper & Row v. Nation (1985)—the famous scooping from Gerald Ford’s as-of-then-unpublished memoir). But in its analysis, the Court quickly invokes Campbell’s reminder that only secondary uses that poach the market for the original are subject to censure. Given, as Smith notes, that Campbell is the leading Supreme Court decision, the Second Circuit took an odd route to get there.

But it is hard to believe that the trio of judges were casual or careless in the composition of their decision. In judicial opinion, words are chosen with the utmost of care. Which invites the question: why this route?

Campbell also ushered in a change in procedure; when examining potential fair use, judges must avoid imposing a hierarchy among the four factors. To return to a hierarchy of factors would seem either dangerous, or at least ill-advised. Or, this might be a calculated effort on the part of the Second Circuit to irrevocably consign any apparition of American Geophysical to the dustbins of history.

The Second Circuit has worked diligently towards rehabilitating fair use, to make it a robust exception. Notably, in two key decisions in 2006 (Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling-Kindersley and Blanch v. Koons), less attention was paid to market consideration, with a conspicuous disinterest in adding to licensing revenue even when mechanisms of licensing existed. Yet, that message does not appear to have been widely received. Perhaps the Second Circuit has decided to make their message more explicit by deliberately invoking the earlier edict that the market reigns supreme, but under the strict boundary of the original market.

Given that Second Circuit’s jurisdiction includes the nerve-centre of American publishing, this could have significant ramifications. At the very least, it ought to give the Authors Guild something to reflect upon before the Guild moves ahead on the Google Books Appeal. [see update below]

With a nod to the late Lyman Ray Patterson, the events that gave rise to copyright and fair use were the competitive (or anti-competitive) actions of professional publishers. Copyright’s reach only extended to the regulation of sales of substantially similar works. Effectively, the Authors Guild gave the Second Circuit a reason to offer up language that ensures future market consideration must expressly reject rent-seeking behavior and only support copyright holders when a new work trespasses into the same market as that of the original work.

The four factor analysis concerning the provision of works for the print-disabled was also handled well and the provision deemed fair use. It would be nicer though, if everyone could simply say it is the right thing to do, and leave it at that. With the anniversary of the Marrakesh Treaty approaching, there is more to come on the subject of making copyrighted works accessible to print-disabled communities everywhere.

Update July 11 The Authors Guild appears intent on pursuing the appeal against Google Books. Readers may recall that this scanning project was deemed fair use at its district court hearing. The Authors Alliance has a nice post describing their support for Google Books (with a link to their amicus brief).

will no one take on Disney?

In Case Reviews on April 24, 2014 at 9:42 pm

Earlier this week, Alex Tabarrok posted “Copyright is out of Control,” at Marginal Revolution. Tabarrok describes a situation whereby an established publisher is wary of using public domain images in books, as the status of public domain does not guarantee an absence of trouble-making from would-be plaintiffs. Tabarrok also describes an inability to use a licensed image:

To illustrate the point that, contrary to what is often argued, a rich person might get more from another dollar than a poor person we have in “Modern Principles a movie still of Scrooge McDuck swimming in money. We think the image speaks for itself but apparently that is a problem. The rights to the photo are–we are told–not the same as the rights to the characters shown within the photo. Thus, even though we have bought and paid for the right to print the photo, to ensure that the use of the characters within the photo falls under fair use we must discuss, comment on and critique the content of the photo in the text.

Tabarrok’s dismal conclusion is:

I am not critiquing our publisher or their lawyers. Bear in mind that this is coming to us from the very highest legal counsel of a multi-billion dollar firm. Thus, I do not doubt that the dangers are real and the legal analysis acute. The problem is copyright law itself.

The reaction to the piece is a quagmire of outrage and confusion, with some commentators protesting the very spectre of a prominent scholar flogging a $250 textbook, and yet wanting free use of an image. Again – according to Tabarrok’s post – the authors’ publisher had purchased a license to use the image. While the industry of educational publishing as a whole leaves much to be desired, what I find more than troubling about this piece is the impression, or lack thereof, it leaves of fair use. Quite likely, there are more details that Tabarrok was unable to include in the post, but clarification is needed.

An outsider reading the post may come away with the view that fair use is not something that is legitimate under appropriate circumstances, but rather a disputed corollary to purchasing a license for re-use of content. Such an interpretation, while no doubt pleasing to many copyright holders and their representatives, would be plain wrong.

Fair use is an exception to each grant of copyright; fair use allows for the use of copyrighted material without seeking authorization from, or making payment to, the copyright holder. The extent of what might be fair use is determined according to the circumstances at hand. Without further information, I can only assume that the extreme timidity of the publisher and its counsel is due to the association of Scrooge McDuck to the Disney Corporation.

As fair use is only of issue if no license was obtained, consider a hypothetical situation where no license for use of the Scrooge McDuck still was purchased. Would Tabarrok and his colleagues have a plausible argument for fair use in the inclusion of this still in their textbook? Case law suggests they would.

The following analysis draws primarily from the U.S. Supreme Court decision Campbell v. Acuff–Rose Music, Inc. (1994) and Appeals Courts’ decisions Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley Ltd. (Second Circuit, 2006), Cariou v. Prince, (Second Circuit, 2013) and Dereck Seltzer v. Green Day Inc. (Ninth Circuit, 2013). For the sake of brevity, I have omitted citations.

Fair Use Analysis

According to Section 107:

… In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall 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 of the copyrighted work.

In this hypothetical situation, a reasoned argument for fair use might include the following:

(1) purpose and character of the use

The reference to commercial or non-profit is of little concern in this instance. Courts have noted that the “crux of this distinction” lies in whether the party using the copyrighted material profits from the use. In this case, the image is hidden within the textbook; it does not serve as an advertisement for the book. Even if students are aware that the book includes such an image; it is unlikely that they would purchase the book purely on that basis.

Moreover, the fact that the publisher is a commercial entity is not a bar to a finding of fair use. The prevailing principle of the exception is the principle that guides the system of copyright as a whole; namely, does it further the progress of the Arts and Sciences, as specified in the U.S. Constitution? To answer that question, in terms of the first factor, greater weight has to be afforded to:  “the purpose and character of the use.”

The notion of transformative use is fast becoming a guide to any examination of the purpose and character of a work. As courts have grappled with balancing the rights of copyright owners versus those of copyright users, the notion of transformation has been given both precision and latitude. The prevailing language asks the question: “whether the new work merely supersede[s] the objects of the original creation, or instead adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message?”

In this situation, the use of the still is not for the purposes of entertainment. (Nor is it to serve as the basis for appropriation art; nor is it necessary that textbook authors comment upon Scrooge McDuck.) The photograph is engaged for a new purpose – that of resonating with a reader’s baser instincts concerning money.

Disney characters are ubiquitous to the modern world; even in its poorest corners, the duck, the mouse, the dog, etc. are recognizable. Appealing to symbols that are embedded in peoples’ childhood experiences is a means to invoking underlying thoughts. While some might favour a quotation of text to accomplish that task, visual imagery is equally eligible to that favour. Indeed, the corporate sector takes great pains to make images and stories they own, integral to everyday experience. Yet they too rely on past creations. In fact, this particular still might be unique to the purpose sought; the nomenclature of Scrooge McDuck is directly traceable to Charles Dicken’s character of Ebeneezer Scrooge. Thus, this still does double-duty in its evocation of a miserly tycoon.

(2) nature of the copyrighted work

It has been suggested that the more creative a work is, the higher the standard needed for fair use to prevail. That the still image is a creative work, and thus deserving of protection, is without doubt. But mitigating this aspect is the extent to which the work has been published. The character of Scrooge McDuck was first published in 1947. (As an aside, it was created by Carl Barks and licensed to the Disney Corporation. Throughout this discussion, both the real and the hypothetical, it has been assumed that Disney has the exclusive license to all imagery of the character. But if use of the still was actually challenged by Disney, it would have to prove that ownership.) Published many times over in comic book and audio-visual genres, Scrooge McDuck’s copyright owner has controlled first publication. This tends to favour a later fair use.

(3) the amount and substantiality of the copyrighted work used

There is no doubt that the entire still has been used. But as multiple cases have emphasized, while no court has ever indicated that copying an entire work would sanction fair use, courts have recognized that sometimes such copying is necessary to make fair use of a work. The amount permissible is a consequence of what the work is and what the use is. Images fall within this category of necessarily-complete copies. While novels, lyrics, or perhaps even poems, may be divisible into representative snippets, images do not lend themselves to meaningful divisibility.

Moreover, the manner by which the entire image is incorporated into the book is likely to be different from the original form of the still. Textbooks will not devote large areas to glossy reproductions of an image; usually an image is reproduced in a small size and with lesser resolution.

(4) the effect of the use

In fair use’s darker days, the impact on market was given unduly wide interpretation and prominence. Any use was deemed an impact on the market and negated fair use as a whole. Fortunately, American courts have since recognized the circularity of those earlier pronouncements. A more nuanced approach of contemporary courts has led to the conclusion: “Where the allegedly infringing use does not substitute for the original and serves a ‘different market function,’ such factor weighs in favor of fair use.” As noted earlier, the manner by which the still is reproduced in a book will not physically serve the market for stills. That the still is being employed to serve a transformative use, indicates a different market function.

And perhaps most crucial; the fact that the publisher in this instance has been willing to pay for licensed content in the past does not negate its ability to practice fair use in the future.

Beyond analysis

With a more than reasonable claim to fair use, it might seem a mystery as to why any legal counsel to such a well-heeled publisher should reject using the still. But it may not be that mysterious. Academic presses are not well-known as advocates for better use of exceptions within the law, or preventing abuse by the law. And if a lawyer has been charged to protect the wellbeing of such a client, doing nothing with licensed content or avoiding any seemingly-precarious involvement of fair use, might seem the optimal strategy.

But this conduct is deleterious to the well-being of a larger constituency, namely all those who would seek to make legitimate use of copyrighted material. The viability of the exception is bolstered when people use it, and diminished when the exception is passed over in favour of unnecessary licensing or passive acquiescence to those who would like nothing better than effectively absolute control in the name of copyright.

Few authors or publishers could withstand even the hint of a copyright lawsuit. But surely a “multi-billion” dollar publishing house with expert legal counsel and highly respected authors under its wing could engage in fair use as appropriate to their business undertakings.