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What Are the Different Fair Use Policies?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

Different fair use policies are typically set by countries that establish and observe copyright laws. Fair use is officially recognized in only a couple of countries, though some other countries have similar policies referred to as “fair dealing.” These policies generally refer to ways in which a work that is protected by copyright can be used without permission from the copyright owner. Such usage is often risky, as the separation between fair use and copyright infringement can be quite fine and is difficult to establish in any strict sense.

Fair use policies are typically set by the laws or legal decisions of a country in relation to the copyright laws of that country. As of 2011, only the US and Israel had established official fair use policies, though some countries, such as Canada, had established similar “fair dealing” policies. The fair use policy of the US basically allows for the use of copyrighted materials without permission of the copyright owner in certain strict settings and purposes. These policies are intentionally vague and instances of disagreements over fair usage often arise and lead to court cases in which a decision must be made regarding the use of a copyrighted work.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

The way in which fair use policies in the US function connects closely to copyright laws. In the US, the moment a work of art or creative product is created, the person who created it owns a copyright for it. Anyone else who wants to reproduce or utilize that work must then receive permission from the copyright owner to do so. Fair use policies provide a major exception to this rule, however, in that a work can be used by others without permission under certain circumstances.

These fair use policies typically involve the establishment of four basic components of the usage of a copyrighted item: the purpose of the use, the nature of the work, the amount of the work used, and the effect of the usage on the value of the work. While general guidelines typically allow for a small portion of a work to be used for critical or educational purposes, there are no hard guidelines on what portion can be used and what constitutes a critical work. Similarly, fair use policies often allow for the usage of intellectual property for reasons of parody, but the exact definition of parody can be open to interpretation. Israeli fair use laws follow a similar structure, and consider similar components with relation to fair usage.

Discussion Comments


@Emilski - You make an interesting point about the general internet fair use policies. Sometimes people don't want people copying their video because they are losing money, but on the other hand, a lot of budding internet stars have relied on the fair use doctrine to get popular.

It is hard to get internet views, so if you let people copy your video, more people can see it. You just have to make sure they are giving you credit for it and aren't making money from it.

I see that happening a lot with flash games and apps, too. Game designers are just trying to get their name established, so they are willing to make free apps that can be spread all over the internet with the hopes that people will like their product and recognize their name and be willing to pay them for their products further down the road.


@titans62 - I don't know how long fair use has been around, but it's definitely been around long before the internet. I even know when I was younger, in certain books, there would be fair use policies about reprinting pictures.

The internet is an interesting part of fair use, though. I am curious what the YouTube fair use policy is. I know I see a lot of people who copy other people's videos and repost them or else use the same music or images to make parodies. Like the article mentions, though, parodies can fall under the rules.

Along the same lines, though, I see a lot a videos that have been taken down because the original owner has said that the video is copying their material. I usually see it with music videos. I guess the record companies want to make sure people go to the official video so that they can make all the money off of it.


@jcraig - That is an interesting question. I think it would really depend on the countries that were involved and how they decided to handle the situation. If you used the property of someone in another country, if the action was against the laws in your country, they might choose to file charges against you. In some countries, though, they may just look the other way.

I think that is what happens a lot in China. I have heard stories about there being fake Apple and Disney stores that are selling look-alike items that would clearly fall under copyright infringement in the U.S., but since China chooses not to prosecute them, there is not a lot the copyright owners can do.

Does anyone know if fair use agreements were in place before the internet, or is it a relatively new concept brought about because of the ease of accessing other people's material?


I had no idea that only two countries had fair use laws. I just assumed most countries had it. I guess that brings up the question of what happens when someone from another country uses someone else's copyrighted materials.

Am I right in assuming that if I live in America and have something available for fair use, that anyone in the world can use it as long as the follow the guidelines? Going the other direction, would I not be able to use an image from someone in England then unless I had explicit permission from them that I could use it?

How would the laws even work if people from different countries weren't following the rules?

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