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Fair Use Lawyer

Fair Use Resource Center™ – Certain uses of protected copyrighted content can be used legally in your blogs, websites, social media networks, podcasts, mobile applications, and Youtube videos as a fair use, even without permission of the copyright holder.  Likewise, certain limited uses of trial software may be deemed a fair use.

Content holders may have the legal obligation to consider the “Fair Use Defense” before sending cease and desist letters or they could face a DMCA “Bad Faith” lawsuit.  This blog will provide valuable legal resources and updates on the topic of Fair Use law in the United States.

NOTE; If you are a California film production company and need a “Fair Use” legal opinion letter to obtain E&O Film insurance email me at the address on the right side of this page!

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“Fair Use of Copyrighted Content is a LEGAL RIGHT, it is literally built right into the Copyright Laws of the United States at Section 107.”

– Attorney Steve® –


Our law firm is a boutique copyright infringement law firm located in the State of California.  We have offices in San Diego, Newport Beach, Santa Monica and San Francisco.  We are also licensing in Arizona and maintain an office in Phoenix.  We are a leading law firm handling copyright infringement claims and issues in the United States.

Fair use is becoming a HOT TOPIC in internet law in recent years given the EXPLOSION of copyright infringement lawsuits.  In the Central District of Cal alone in the year 2018 there have been over 3,500 infringement lawsuits filed.  There is close to a 1,000 filed in the Northern District of California.  In order to obtain film E&O insurance many carriers will require a legal “fair use” opinion letter and help with any copyright clearance issues.  See below for more information on filmmaker E&O insurance.

This blog highlights our services in the area of fair use copyright law.   To stay abreast of new fair use legal opinion analysis make sure to SUBSCRIBE to our Youtube legal channel which now has close to 10,000 subscribers!!!

Vondran Legal Copyright Fair Use Services

Here are some of the services we can provide in the area of fair use copyright:

  1. Fair use opinion letters
  2. Copyright clearance
  3. Chain of title search (have you check all the copyright holder's “bundle of rights” for clearance)?
  4. Cease and desist letters (issue and respond)
  5. DMCA takedown notices (issue and respond)
  6. Trademark & Copyright Parody (writers, producers and content generators need to know what is legal and what is not)
  7. Right of Publicity (ex. celebrity endorsement and clearance issues)
  8. Copyright assignments from one party to an other (and recording with the United States Copyright Office)
  9. Public domain issues (are you sure the music you plan to use in your film is in the public domain)?
  10. Copyright licensing
  11. Infringement analysis (are two works “substantially similar“?).  This can often be a very close call.  We can help with an opinion letter and counseling services.
  12. Termination of Rights
  13. Registering copyrights (software, toys, fonts, books, jewelry, screenplay, photographs, video, webpages, blogs, podcasts, etc.)
  14. IP assets and portfolio management (musicians, songwriters, cartoons, video libraries, photo libraries, rights of publicity)
  15. Mediation, arbitration and litigation
  16. Youtube counter-notification, appeal and federal court injunctions

If you need services not mentioned on this list simply email me at the address at the top right side of this page.

Watch Attorney Steve® explain Instagram Copyright FAQ

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VIDEO:  Click on the picture to watch this video which discusses Instagram Fair Use.  Make sure to SUBSCRIBE to our popular legal channel to join over 10,000 subscribers who love our legal information videos!  As we like to say, Be Smarter Than Your Friends!

What exactly is fair use?

Fair use is a defense to copyright infringement.  It is a LEGAL RIGHT but often has to be enforced as a “affirmative defense” in a Court of law.  When as fair use claim is presented to the Court, the Court must go through the 4 Fair Use Factors and determine whether or not the defense applies.  Usually this will happen at the summary judgement phase of a lawsuit.

If you (as a Defendant or potential Defendant) can meet the terms of the test, WALLAH, there is no copyright infringement and the aggressive Plaintiff (sometimes called a “copyright troll”) will have no case, and if the case was brought in bad faith a defendant may be able to recover attorney fees.  A good copyright counsel can help you set up a bad faith case by detailing your position to opposing counsel BEFORE they file a federal court lawsuit.

Attorney Steve® explains fair use and top tips for YouTube Creators building their channels

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VIDEO:  Click on the picture above to watch this video.  This video explains the four fair use factors and provides some general tips for Youtubers and videographers to avoid infringement allegations.  Make sure to SUBSCRIBE to our popular legal channel and to get breaking “fair use” case law updates when they hit.  We are now over 8,600 subscribers and over ONE MILLION video views.

Copyright Watchdog® – Click here to see a sample of one of our Breaking Legal News FAIR USE videos.  CLICK BELOW!

Here are the 4 factors a court will weigh whenever looking at a fair use defense claim.

Attorney Steve Tip: this is something every Plaintiff lawyer should review before asserting a copyright infringement claim.  If not, you could find yourself on the long winding road to defeat, or worse yet, face your own lawsuit for “bad faith” for not factoring in the fair use defense before sending a DMCA take down notice.

The four factors to apply are:

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

“The first factor in a fair use enquiry is “the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.  See Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 578, 114 S. Ct. 1164, 1171, 127 L. Ed. 2d 500 (1994).”

“A commercial use weighs against a finding of fair use but is not conclusive on the issue….direct economic benefit is not required to demonstrate a commercial use. Rather, repeated and exploitative copying of copyrighted works, even if the copies are not offered for sale, may constitute a commercial use. See Worldwide Church of God v. Philadelphia Church of God, 227 F.3d 1110, 1118 (9th Cir.2000) (stating that church that copied religious text for its members “unquestionably profited” from the unauthorized “distribution and use of [the text] without having to account to the copyright holder”); See also American Geophysical Union v. Texaco, Inc., 60 F.3d 913, 922 (2d Cir.1994) (finding that researchers at for-profit laboratory gained indirect economic advantage by photocopying copyrighted scholarly articles).  See A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 239 F.3d 1004, 1015 (9th Cir. 2001), as amended (Apr. 3, 2001), aff'd sub nom. A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 284 F.3d 1091 (9th Cir. 2002).

  1. the nature of the copyrighted work;

“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 [fictional] works are copied.” Campbell, 510 U.S. at 586, 114 S.Ct. 1164. However, “this … factor typically has not been terribly significant in the overall fair use balancing.” Walking Mountain, 353 F.3d at 803 (quoting Dr. Seuss, 109 F.3d at 1402). And although in the present case this factor therefore weighs against Defendants, a Court must also “consider the extent to which a work has been published.” Seltzer, 725 F.3d at 1178. That is, published works are more likely to qualify as fair use because the first appearance of the artist's expression has already occurred.” (quoting Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corp., 336 F.3d 811, 820 (9th Cir. 2003)). Because in the present case Dr. Seuss published Go! several decades ago—and indeed “Dr. Seuss books have topped may bestseller lists, sold over 650 million copies worldwide, and been translated into more than a dozen languages[,]”  “this factor as a whole … weighs only slightly in [Plaintiff's] favor.  See Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. v. ComicMix LLC, 256 F. Supp. 3d 1099 (S.D. Cal. 2017).

Works that are creative in nature are “closer to the core of intended copyright protection” than are more fact-based works. See Campbell, 510 U.S. at 586, 114 S.Ct. 1164.  A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 239 F.3d 1004, 1016 (9th Cir. 2001)

  1. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

The third factor concerns both the percentage of the original work that was copied and whether that portion constitutes the “heart” of the copyrighted work. Harper & Row, 471 U.S. at 564–65, 105 S.Ct. at 2232–33. Generally, no more of a work may be copied than is necessary for the particular use. See Supermarket of Homes v. San Fernando Valley Board of Realtors, 786 F.2d 1400, 1409 (9th Cir.1986). The copying of an entire work will ordinarily militate against a finding of fair use, although this is not a per se rule.  See Religious Tech. Ctr. v. Netcom On-Line Commc'n Servs., Inc., 907 F. Supp. 1361, 1379 (N.D. Cal. 1995)

  1. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

As federal courts have noted:

“The task is not to be simplified with bright-line rules, for the statute, like the doctrine it recognizes, calls for case-by-case analysis.” See Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 577, 114 S. Ct. 1164, 1170, 127 L. Ed. 2d 500 (1994)

“The statutory factors are not exclusive. Rather, the doctrine of fair use is in essence “an equitable rule of reason.”  See Sega Enterprises Ltd. v. Accolade, Inc., 977 F.2d 1510, 1522 (9th Cir. 1992), as amended (Jan. 6, 1993).

We can help with fair use opinion letters and analysis.

Does fair use apply to both copyright and trademark cases?


Pepe the Frog v. Infowars – Fair Use?

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VIDEO:  Click on the image above to watch Attorney Steve® explain this copyright case in the news.  Make sure to SUBSCRIBE to our popular YouTube legal channel.

9th Circuit Court Federal Fair Use case law snippets

Here are some clips that have some good language regarding the fair use defense:

  • A claim of copyright infringement is subject to certain statutory exceptions, including the fair use exception.10 This exception “permits courts to avoid rigid application of the copyright statute when, on occasion, it would stifle the very creativity which that law is designed to foster.  See Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corp., 336 F.3d 811, 817 (9th Cir. 2003)
  • Consistent with its policy goals, however, the Copyright Act recognizes certain statutory exceptions to protections on copyrights. At its core, the Act seeks to promote the progress of science and art by protecting artistic and scientific works while encouraging the development and evolution of new works.  See Campbell v. Acuff–Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 575–76, 114 S.Ct. 1164, 127 L.Ed.2d 500 (1994). Recognizing that science and art generally rely on works that came before them and rarely spring forth in a vacuum, the Act limits the rights of a copyright owner regarding works that build upon, reinterpret, and reconceive existing works. “Few, if any, things…are strictly new and original throughout.   Every book in literature, science and art, borrows, and must necessarily borrow.  The fair use exception excludes from copyright restrictions certain works, such as those that criticize and comment on another work. 17 U.S.C. § 107. See also Dr. Seuss Enters., L.P. v. Penguin Books USA, Inc., 109 F.3d 1394, 1399 (9th Cir.) (holding that fair use “permits courts to avoid rigid application of the copyright statute when, on occasion, it would stifle the very creativity which that law is designed to foster”), cert. dismissed, 521 U.S. 1146, 118 S.Ct. 27, 138 L.Ed.2d 1057 (1997).  See Mattel, Inc. v. Walking Mountain Prods., 353 F.3d 792, 799–800 (9th Cir. 2003).
  • “Fair use is a mixed question of law and fact,” and therefore is usually adjudicated either at trial or on a motion for summary judgment where no material facts are in dispute. Leadsinger, Inc. v. BMG Music Pub., 512 F.3d 522, 530 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enters., 471 U.S. 539, 560, 105 S.Ct. 2218, 85 L.Ed.2d 588 (1985)). However, a fair use defense may occasionally be resolved on a motion to dismiss when it is appropriately raised and there are no material facts in dispute. Id. Nonetheless, “in light of a court's narrow inquiry at this stage and limited access to all potentially relevant and material facts needed to undertake the analysis, courts rarely analyze fair use on a .” Browne v. McCain, 611 F.Supp.2d 1073, 1078 (C.D. Cal. 2009) (citing Four Navy Seals v. Assoc. Press, 413 F.Supp.2d 1136, 1148 (S.D. Cal. 2005); Dr. Seuss Enters., L.P. v. Penguin Books USA, Inc., 109 F.3d 1394, 1403 (9th Cir. 1997).  See Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. v. ComicMix LLC, 256 F. Supp. 3d 1099 (S.D. Cal. 2017).
  • In determining whether a challenged use of copyrighted material is fair, a court must keep in mind the public policy underlying the Copyright Act. “ ‘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.' ” Sony Corp., 464 U.S. at 432, 104 S.Ct. at 783 (quoting Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken, 422 U.S. 151, 156, 95 S.Ct. 2040, 2044, 45 L.Ed.2d 84 (1975)). When technological change has rendered an aspect or application of the Copyright Act ambiguous, “ ‘the Copyright Act must be construed in light of this basic purpose.  See Sega Enterprises Ltd. v. Accolade, Inc., 977 F.2d 1510, 1527 (9th Cir. 1992), as amended (Jan. 6, 1993)

The general framework for analysis of fair use is established by statute, 17 U.S.C. § 107. We have applied this statute and the fair use doctrine to the disassembly of computer software in the case of Sega Enterprises Ltd. v. Accolade, Inc., 977 F.2d 1510 (9th Cir.1992) (amended opinion). Central to our decision today is the rule set forth in Sega:

“[W]here disassembly is the  only way to gain access to the ideas and functional elements embodied in a copyrighted computer program and where there is a legitimate reason for seeking such access, disassembly is a fair use of the copyrighted work, as a matter of law.  In  Sega, we recognized that intermediate copying could constitute  copyright infringement even when the end product did not itself contain  copyrighted material.  But this copying nonetheless could be protected as a fair use if it was “necessary” to gain access to the functional elements of the software itself. We drew this distinction because the Copyright Act protects expression only, not ideas or the functional aspects of a software program.  See id. at 1524 (citing 17 U.S.C. § 102(b)). We also recognized that, in the case of computer programs, this idea/expression distinction poses “unique problems” because computer programs are “in essence, utilitarian articles—articles that accomplish tasks. As such, they contain many logical, structural, and visual display elements that are dictated by the function to be performed, by considerations of efficiency, or by external factors such as compatibility requirements and industry demands.”   Thus, the  fair  use doctrine preserves public access to the ideas and functional elements embedded in  copyrighted computer  software programs. This approach is consistent with the “ ‘ultimate aim [of the  Copyright Act], to stimulate artistic creativity for the general public good.'  See Sony Computer Entm't, Inc. v. Connectix Corp., 203 F.3d 596, 602–03 (9th Cir. 2000). To be clear, we do not hold that a  fair  use defense is not available simply because the infringer uses technology to make efficient use of its licenses. The problematic aspect of the Sheriff's Department's use is that it took in excess of what it bargained for, not that it was technologically efficient. Thus, for example, if the Sheriff's Department had saved time and money by hard drive imaging RUMBA  software onto the number of computers for which it had licenses, its “efficiency” would not create a problem.  Psystar's reliance on this quote is misplaced. In Wall Data, the Sheriff Department purchased 3,663 licenses to plaintiff's software, but installed the software onto 6,007 computers. To do this, the Department used hard drive imaging—a single master hard drive containing the software was used to copy the contents onto many other computers.   The Ninth Circuit held that this was not fair use and was in excess of the licensed use of the copyright software bargained for. While the process used for “efficiency” was not the problem, the Sheriff Department's unauthorized copying of the software beyond the number of licensed copies was problematic. Similarly, Psystar's use of Mac OS X has been in excess and has violated Apple's  copyrights.  See A pple, Inc. v. Psystar Corp., 673 F. Supp. 2d 931, 936 (N.D. Cal. 2009),  aff'd, 658 F.3d 1150 (9th Cir. 2011). At trial, the defendant in an infringement action bears the burden of proving  fair  use.  See  Perfect 10, Inc. v., Inc., 508 F.3d 1146, 1158 (9th Cir. 2007)

Sample Fair Use Disclaimer for Video Channel

If you are building a video channel, you might want to watch this video.  Most channels I see use (to some extent) a copyrighted work of another person or company.  This video will help explain how you can minimize your legal exposure if using other pictures, photos, images, audio, or other content in your vids.

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VIDEO:  Watch Attorney Steve explain the use of a disclaimer on your youtube or vimeo videos to show the public and the copyright holder that you consider any use of copyrighted content to be a fair and lawful use. Make sue to SUBSCRIBE to our popular legal channel, now over 4,600 subscribers and moving up fast!

How to fight back against bad faith DMCA take down notices

If you have received a demand letter for something that you consider to be CLEARLY a fair use, read this blog on BAD FAITH DMCA takedown letters.  You may have a cause of action against the overly aggressive copyright holder.

Fair Use Resources

  1. Guild v. Google
  2. Pardon my infringement (Harper case)
  3. Fair Use Quiz (VIDEO)
  4. A Catcher in the Rye infringement case
  5. Oh Pretty Woman music parody case

Contact a United States Fair Use Attorney

We can help with copyright clearance and legal opinion letters, chain of title review and analysis and general copyright matters such as cease and desist, DMCA takedown notices, DMCA subpoena and any arbitration, mediation, or litigation case involving claims of copyright infringement or where the need to assert the fair use defense arises.

We also handle software infringement cases that may involve fair use of Autodesk, Siemens, Microsoft, Adobe, CNC, Vero, or other software programs (ex. scholarly research of programs) and cases involving photo infringement and infringement of movies by  such as Malibu Media, LLC and Strike 3 Holdings, LLC.

We have also consulted on an handled claims of copyright infringement relating to sunglasses, jewelry, font and religious videos.

For more information about our services, and costs, call us at (877) 276-5084.  In many non-litigation cases we are able to offer low predictable FLAT RATE FEES!


Contact us for an initial consultation!

For more information, or to discuss your case or our experience and qualifications please contact us at (877) 276-5084. Please note that our firm does not represent you unless and until a written retainer agreement is signed, and any applicable legal fees are paid. All initial conversations are general in nature. Free consultations are limited to time and availability of counsel and will depend on the type of case you are calling about (no free consultations for other lawyers). All users and potential clients are bound by our Terms of Use Policies. We look forward to working with you!