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Unbundling Fair Uses

  • Author(s): Samuelson, Pamela;
  • et al.

Fair use has been invoked as a defense to claims of copyright infringement in a wide array of cases over the past thirty years, as when someone has drawn expression from an earlier work in order to parody it, quoted from an earlier work in preparing a new work on the same subject, published a photograph as part of a news story, made a time-shift copy of television programming, photocopied a document for submission as evidence in a litigation, reverse engineered a computer program to get access to interface information, cached websites to facilitate faster access to them, or provided links to images available on the Internet, just to name a few.

The wide array of fair use cases has led many commentators to complain that fair use is unpredictable. This Article argues that fair use law is both more coherent and more predictable than many commentators have perceived once one recognizes that fair use cases tend to fall into common patterns, or what this Article will call policy-relevant clusters. The policies underlie modern fair use law include promoting freedom of speech and of expression, the ongoing progress of authorship, learning, access to information, truth-telling or truth-seeking, competition, technological innovation, and privacy and autonomy interests of users. If one analyzes putative fair uses in light of cases previously decided in the same policy cluster, it is generally possible to predict whether a use is likely to be fair or unfair. Policy-relevant clustering is not a substitute for appropriate consideration of the statutory fair use factors, but provides another dimension to fair use analysis that complements four-factor analysis and sharpens awareness about how the statutory factors, sometimes supplemented by other factors, should be analyzed in particular contexts.

Parts I through V mainly provide a positive account of how fair use has been adjudicated in a variety of contexts and suggestions about factors that should be given greater or lesser weight in certain fair use policy clusters. Its articulation of the policy-relevant clusters into which the fair use cases typically fall should not, however, be understood as attempting to limn the outer bounds of fair use or to foreclose the development of new policy-relevant clusters. Part VI offers a more normative account of fair use as an integral and essential part of U.S. copyright law that can, in fact, encompass the wide range of fair uses discussed in the Article. It also recaps the key lessons from this Article’s qualitative assessment of the fair use case law and points to some encouraging trends in recent cases.

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