Fair Use

What Does Fair Use Mean?

Fair use is a copyright doctrine that enables the legitimate use of copyrighted materials. In the United States, certain copying circumstances provide exceptions to private digital media users.


Digital Rights Management (DRM) encryption software may be bypassed under some concepts of fair use, providing users operate in good faith, such as educational or legally private purposes.

Fair use also allows circumvention of encryption tools for copied portions of copyrighted materials for ethical and non-commercial intents and purposes. Copied and shared reviews of creative works that benefit the public are also considered fair use types. However, fair use is considered more fair if less copyrighted material is actually copied. Fair use implications typically provide for non-competitive intentions, such as not being a direct market competitor or profit recipient.

Techopedia Explains Fair Use

Fair use is a respected and acknowledged doctrine under copyright law, but user intent is arguably ambiguous and may indirectly or directly circumnavigate U.S. Copyright Law, which opens the door to piracy. Most countries observe fair use laws but enact them through a variety of directives. Some countries purposely deny fair use legal specifications and leave their creation to smaller governing bodies.

In the U.S., fair use is permitted for domestic use, but much reliance is placed on user honesty and ethics. However, when held liable, users must prove good intentions. Distribution resulting in profit is considered piracy. If proven, the courts do not hesitate to punish users.

Fair use critics point toward its subjective nature. In addition, courts or arbitrators must navigate through the ambiguities associated with fair use. Prosecutors must prove that a copyright owner has been deprived of allocated licensing fees or other income, per copyright law. However, some courts refuse to consider a case if the portion of copied materials is small. In such instances, courts usually favor the user, such as the movie Seven, in which several copyrighted photographs were used. In this case, the rightsholder sued the movie’s producers. However, because the photos were obscured and presented with limited use throughout the movie, the court refused to move forward with prosecution.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.