Fair Use in the U.S. Copyright Act – Analysis and Interpretation

Fair use (s. 107) is an intentionally drafted ambiguous provision in the U.S. Copyright Act for the purpose of defending users of copyright works from a variety of otherwise infringing acts. Although often compared to the Canadian fair dealing, the two defenses are quite different. Two interesting documents on the analysis of fair use and its interpretation were recently released.

General Counsel from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office released a memorandum on 19 January 2012 on: USPTO Position on Fair Use of Copies of NPL Made in Patent Examination. The memorandum looks at three issues: Whether it is fair use of the USPTO to make copies of copyrighted non-patent literature (NPL) and provide such copies to an applicant in the course of patent examination? Whether it is fair use for the USPTO to provide certified copies of entire file histories, including copyright NPL to members of the public, for a free? Whether it is fair use for an applicant to make a copy of a piece of copyrighted NPL and submit it to the USPTO?

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries was published on 25 January 2012 by the Association of Research Libraries and the Center for Social Media. This document addresses various questions such as how to make libraries’ special collection available online; what can be digitized for student use; and, reproducing materials for faculty, staff and other users.

Those who apply fair dealing or fair use or are generally interested in these topics will find the discussions and analysis interesting in both of these documents, though at the end of the day, the application of either of these defenses very much depends upon the circumstances in each particular situation.


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