The Difference Between Copyright Infringement and Fair Use of Copyrighted Material

When you have created copyrighted material such as music, photographs, or books, it is incredibly important to ensure that no one else makes money off your intellectual property. After all, failure to defend your work against copyright infringement means lost income for you.

However, you do need to be aware that some uses of your copyrighted work are considered “fair use.” The legal doctrine of fair use is intended to ensure freedom of expression, a freedom highly valued by Americans and protected by the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights.

Likewise, if you want to use someone else’s copyright works for your own business purposes, you need to be clear on whether your use constitutes fair use or copyright infringement. You do not want to become the target of a lawsuit for damages because you improperly reproduced someone else’s original work.

How Is Fair Use Different from Copyright Infringement?

By way of example, consider these three uses of a copyrighted illustration:

  • If you want to lawfully use that image on the cover of a book you are publishing for sale, you must obtain the copyright holder’s written permission, credit the work as requested, and pay any fees requested. 
  • If you take that image without permission and reproduce it on pillows that you sell, that would be illegal copyright infringement and you could be sued for damages. Even if you credit the illustrator with a printed statement on the pillows, it is still copyright infringement because you did not have permission. 
  • If you reproduce that image as part of a fair use, you do not need permission and you cannot be accused of copyright infringement, although you should still, of course, credit the owner/creator of the illustration.

What Constitutes a Fair Use of a Copyrighted Work?

To be considered a fair use, the reproduction must not be likely to replace or cannibalize revenue from the original work in the marketplace. Fair uses of a copyright worked include uses in:

  • News reporting, such as the publication of a copyrighted photograph in a news story about the photographer.
  • Critique or commentary on the work, such as the inclusion of a video clip in an online review of a new movie release.
  • Parody, such as a parody of a copyrighted song or photograph which contains enough elements of the original to be recognizable but has been altered for the purposes of social criticism or commentary.
  • Not-for-profit education or scholarly research, such as images of artworks reproduced for use as exhibits in an art class.

Consult an Experienced Copyright Infringement Lawyer

Copycats who reproduce your original creative works can cost you thousands of dollars in lost income. You must take action to protect your copyrights. Contact an experienced copyright defense lawyer in Chicago to help you defend your intellectual property against unlawful competitors.