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Making Sense of Fair Use

  • Author(s): Netanel, Neil
  • et al.
Abstract

Many criticize fair use doctrine as hopelessly unpredictable and indeterminate. Yet in recent empirical studies, leading scholars have found some order in fair use case law where others have seen only chaos. Building upon these studies and new empirical research, this Article examines fair use case law through the lens of the doctrine’s chronological development and concludes that in fundamental ways fair use is a different doctrine today than it was ten or twenty years ago. Specifically, the Article traces the rise to prominence of the transformative use paradigm, as adopted by the Supreme Court in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose, over the market-centered paradigm of Harper & Row v. The Nation and its progeny. The Article presents data showing that since 2005 the transformative use paradigm has come overwhelmingly to dominate fair use doctrine, bringing to fruition a shift towards the transformative use doctrine that began a decade earlier. The Article also finds a dramatic increase in defendant win rates on fair use that correlates with the courts’ embrace of the transformative use doctrine. In light of these developments, adding an historical dimension to a study of fair use case law helps to make sense of what might otherwise appear to be a disconnected series of ad hoc, case-by-case judgments and explains why current rulings might seem to contradict those regarding like cases issued when the market-centered paradigm still reigned supreme.

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