The Fair Use Doctrine & U.S. Copyright Law

Fair use in the electronic age: Serving the public interest The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors, but " promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts."  To this end, copyright assures authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work.  This result is neither unfair nor unfortunate.  It is the means by which copyright advances the progress of science and art. -- Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 US 340, 349(1991)

"The genius of United States copyright law is that, in conformance with its constitutional foundation, it balances the intellectual property interests of authors, publishers and copyright owners with society's need for the free exchange of ideas.   Taken together, fair use and other public rights to utilize copyrighted works, as confirmed in the Copyright Act of 1976, constitute indispensable legal doctrines for promoting the dissemination of knowledge, while ensuring authors, publishers and copyright owners appropriate protection of their creative works and economic investments.

The fair use provision of the Copyright Act allows reproduction and other uses of copyrighted works under certain conditions for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research.  Additional provisions of the law allow uses specifically permitted by Congress to further educational and library activities.  The preservation and continuation of these balanced rights in an electronic environment as well as in traditional formats are essential to the free flow of information and to the development of an information infrastructure that serves the public interest.

It follows that the benefits of the new technologies should flow to the public as well as to copyright proprietors.  As more information becomes available only in electronic formats, the public's legitimate right to use copyrighted material must be protected.  In order for copyright to truly serve its true and original purpose of "promoting progress," the public's right of fair use must continue in the electronic era, and these lawful uses of copyrighted works must be allowed without fees."

The above statement was developed by representatives of the following associations (in a working document dated 1/18/95):

-- Excerpted from Free Republic