Welcome to Attorney Steve's® Copyright "Fair Use" Resource Center.™. Legal decisions and opinion letters for the creative industry (photographers, videographers, drones, documentary film-makers, and others). Call us or fill out our form below for a free quote!
NEW FOR 2023: Fair Use Webinar for your Creative Team.
Certain uses of protected copyrighted content can be used legally in your documentary movies, music videos, blogs, websites, social media networks, podcasts, mobile applications, and Youtube videos as a "fair use," (even without permission or paying a fee to the copyright holder).
This blog will provide valuable legal resources to the creative artist and provide key updates on the topic of Fair Use law in the United States.
FAIR USE OPINION LETTERS: If you are a creative artist, musician, filmmaker, TV series creator, podcaster, or theater production company, you may need a “Fair Use” legal opinion letter from a qualified Copyright Fair Use Lawyer in order to obtain E&O insurance.
“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 licensed in Arizona and maintain two offices in Phoenix (uptown and downtown). We are a leading law firm handling copyright infringement claims and issues in the United States and am emerging leader in the area of entertainment law, fair use opinion letters, and copyright clearance.
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 insurance carriers will require a legal “fair use” opinion letter to show that the legal risk has been reduced to the extent possible to ensure your movie for distribution.
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 28,000 subscribers!!!
#WTFU - Where is The Fair Use?
Also important to know, copyright holders may also have the legal obligation to consider the “Fair Use Defense” before sending cease and desist letters or they could face a DMCA “Bad Faith” lawsuits (512(f) claims) for failure to do so.
Get a "Fair Use Opinion" legal quote - We have helped many videographers and film makers get approved for distribution insurance
FORM: Click here to listen to get a fair use opinion quote from a California law firm (serving San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Hollywood, Silicon Valley and other areas in the San Francisco bar area (San Jose, Mountain View etc.). Make sure to SUBSCRIBE to join over 40,700 other subscribers who love our legal videos!!
Vondran Legal® Copyright "Fair Use" and copyright clearance services
Many filmmakers, producers, YouTube Creators and videographers need to obtain a fair use opinion in order to proceed with distribution of their films, videos and creative works. Others want it for peace of mind knowing they reduce their chances of receiving a DMCA takedown letter, copyright strikes, unwanted video monetization, or face risks of a costly copyright infringement lawsuit. In one California federal case the court noted:
"In addition, at least one industry association, the International Documentary Association, has advised that for E&O insurance and potential distributors, "a filmmaker must obtain a fair use opinion letter from an experienced clearance attorney." See Winnie Wong, Errors & Omissions & Rights, Oh My! A Guide to Protecting Your Film, International Documentary Association, Apr. 6, 2012, available at https://www.documentary.org/feature/errors-omissions-rights-oh-my-guide-protecting-your-film (last visited Apr. 30, 2020).
Services we can provide in the area of fair use copyright:
- Fair use opinion letters
- Copyright clearance (clearing music, film, costume, photographs and other creative works)
- Chain of title search (have you checked all the copyright holder's “bundle of rights” for 100% clearance)?
- Location releases
- Warranties, indemnities, releases
- Cease and desist letters (issue and respond)
- DMCA takedown notices (issue and respond)
- Trademark & Copyright Parody (writers, producers, and content generators need to know what is legal and what is not)
- Right of Publicity review (ex. celebrity endorsement and clearance issues)
- Copyright assignments (and recording with the United States Copyright Office)
- Public domain issues (are you sure the music, film, news clips, and photos you plan to use in your film or creative work is in the public domain)?
- Copyright licensing
- Infringement analysis (are two works “substantially similar“?). We can help you choose the right musicologist for your case.
- Copyright recapture
- Registering copyrights (software, toys, fonts, books, jewelry, screenplay, photography, video, webpages, blogs, podcasts, etc.)
- IP assets and portfolio management (musicians, songwriters, cartoons, video libraries, photo libraries, rights of publicity)
- Mediation, arbitration, and litigation
- Youtube counter-notification, appeal, and federal court injunctions
- Copyright small claims court (many cases will be brought in the newly created "copyright court" in Washington D.C. (located in the library of Congress). Many of these cases will undoubtedly have a "fair use" possible defense.
- Slander, Libel analysis (defamation)
If you need services not mentioned on this list simply email us through our contact form.
BONUS MATERIALS: Click here for our Fair Use Disclaimer for your YouTube and Vimeo videos.
Fair Use Opinion Letters - Common Issues
We offer low flat rate legal fees for most cases involving legal opinion letters for fair use. Some things we may be called upon to review, examine, and opine on are the following:
- Whether your use of video, music, news, lyrics or other copyrighted content constitutes a "fair use" (meaning, no copyright clearance would be required). See our YouTube Fair Use Tips Video
- Issues involving potential defamation, disparagement or harm to the character or reputation of any person or organization (including libel, slander, product disparagement or trade libel);
- invasion of or interference with the right of privacy or rights of publicity, including eavesdropping, intrusion upon seclusion and solitude, false light invasion of privacy, public disclosure of private facts and misappropriation of name or likeness;
- Clearance of all possible legal rights (ex. copyrights that may be asserted by writers, directors, producers, camera persons, music rights holders, costume designers and others)
Watch Attorney Steve® explain Instagram Copyright FAQ
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 28,000 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 (see factors below). Usually, this will happen at the summary judgment 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.
Essential Factors to consider
- What types of clips are you using?
- Who has the legal rights to the content?
- How do you make sure you have all the rights to the content you are using
- Are you properly "transforming" the material?
- Is your movie or creative work run the risk of creating claims for defamation, disparagement?
- Do first amendment rights protect you in "life story" cases?
- In using third party content, are you using "no more than necessary to tell your story?"
- Is your creative work invading the privacy or publicity rights of any third party?
These are some of the important questions to ask and are not an exclusive list.
Attorney Steve® explains fair use and top tips for YouTube Creators building their channels
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 25,500 subscribers and well over THREE 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 inquiry 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 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 an 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) A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 284 F.3d 1091 (9th Cir. 2002).
2. 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 many 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)
3. 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)
4. 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.
E&O carriers for distribution insurance
Some have asked us what E&O providers we recommend. Here are a few that may be worth looking into:
These companies handle the bulk of distribution E&O. These are just a representative list, there are others. Some of these companies may have a list of "pre-approved" fair use attorneys. The one thing to keep in mind is many of these law firms are larger law firms (which can be costly when they put two or more attorneys on your case and are engaged in a "billable hour" assignment. We offer low PREDICTABLE fixed-rate legal fees so you know what you are going to be paying, and our motivation is to help you get your product to market as opposed to dragging on a billable engagement as long as possible. With big firms, you never know who you will be dealing with. With our IP firm, you deal with Attorney Steve® personally.
Does fair use apply to both copyright and trademark cases?
Pepe the Frog v. Infowars – Fair Use?
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 ., 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 the 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 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 the 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 Apple, 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. Amazon.com, 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.
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 fair and lawful use. Make sure to SUBSCRIBE to our popular legal channel, now over 28,500 subscribers and moving up fast!
How to fight back against bad faith DMCA takedown 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.
Google wins Software Code infringement lawsuit with "Fair Use" Defense
Oracle and Google were embroiled in heated litigation over the software code Google used (approximately 11,000 lines of Java API code) which they incorporated into their Android OS. Oracle found out and filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Google argued it was a "fair use" of Oracle's software code and the Supreme Court of the United States (after applying the 4-factor fair use test) agreed ON EACH POINT. Thus, Google was able to avoid an 8-billion dollar lawsuit.
PODCAST: Listen to Attorney Steve® go over the Supreme Court's rationale in reaching a 6-2 ruling for Google.
Fair Use Resources
- Guild v. Google
- Pardon my infringement (Harper case)
- Fair Use Quiz (VIDEO)
- A Catcher in the Rye infringement case
- Oh Pretty Woman music parody case
- How to find copyright fair use case law
- Are memes legal as fair use?
- Fair use law and 512(f) "bad faith" DMCA takedowns
- Stanford fair use
- U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index
Contact a United States Copyright "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 and handled claims of copyright infringement relating to sunglasses, corporate logos, jewelry, computer fonts, and religious videos. Since our founding in 2004, we have appeared in over 185 federal court cases which makes us one of the top copyright infringement litigation law firms in California.
For more information about our services, and costs, call us at (877) 276-5084 or email us through our contact form.
In many non-litigation cases, we are able to offer low predictable FLAT RATE FEES so you don't get HUGE ATTORNEY BILLS when your case is over.
Call us or email us to explore options.