Brandon Butler Suggests Simple Guideline for Celebrating Fair Use Week

Are you hesitant about using that great picture you found to illustrate a blog post, or worried that quoting too much from a single title for your term paper violates copyright? The Library’s Director of Information Policy, Brandon Butler, has come up with a phrase that can help determine if you are protected from having to seek permission from the copyright holder. Using writer Michael Pollan’s commonsense maxim about food, health, and nutrition—“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”—Butler simplifies the concept of fair use with his own phrase, “Use fairly. Not too much. Have reasons.”

“Use fairly” means taking from a work without superseding it, like a book review that doesn’t replace the book but informs people about whether or not to buy it, or transforming a work into something new and different that changes and adds value to it. “Not too much” means using an amount appropriate to your purpose, as with critical appraisal of an artwork that might require the entire image. “Have reasons” means being prepared to justify why your use is fair, and why the amount is not too much, given your purpose.

The most significant development in fair use for libraries this past year was Judge Orinda Evans’ finding in the Georgia State University e-reserves decision that the limit she had set earlier on the amount of a copyrighted work that could be legally posted was too restrictive. This time, instead of drawing the line at 10% or one chapter, Evans ruled that the deciding factor should be the effect of reserves on a book’s market value. Scanning substantially more than 10% of some works whose availability is severely limited, for example, may have virtually no impact on sales.

The rights that Judge Evans upheld—codified in the 1976 Copyright Act—allowing fair use of copyrighted material for “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research” are essential to library staff who answer patrons’ questions about copyright, or who scan material for faculty to post as course reserves for students, and whose job in the Library is to reinforce the intent of the copyright clause of the U.S. Constitution—to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”

In recognition of Fair Use Week, please read the Library’s guide to Copyright and Scholarly Communication Resources, and please learn and promote the truth about fair use by reading and sharing the PDF, “Fair Use Myths & Facts.” The Library encourages everyone to continue using copyrighted material fairly, not too much, and to have reasons.

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