Most of us have probably heard that the reproduction of any copyrighted work is unlawful. Additionally, many individuals have likely come across the signs posted alongside photocopiers that highlight how anyone who violates copyright laws may be subject to significant fines. However, artists of all kind should know that there are some instances in which an individual can use copyrighted material without permission and not face penalties for doing so.
Individuals are allowed to utilize certain pieces of copyrighted work in a limited capacity under the concept of fair use. In fact, anyone can generally sample a copyrighted piece provided that they intend to use it in a limited and transformative way. Many legal scholars have interpreted that an individual is generally allowed to criticize, parody, or comment about a work without first seeking permission from the copyright owner.
Fair use is a valid defense against claims of copyright infringement. Thus, if someone’s use of your copyrighted work qualifies as fair use, you won’t be able to sue them for copyright infringement.
Typically, fair use falls into one of two categories; commentary and criticism, or parody. For example, a student writing a book review for an assignment is often classified as fair use. It is generally acceptable for the student to quote lines or even some paragraphs of the book to support the position that they are taking in the report they’re writing.
When someone is doing a parody of another’s work, they’re usually allowed to sample a very liberal amount of that person’s work to ridicule, imitate or make fun of what they’ve written.
It can understandably be disheartening when you feel that someone has stolen or utilized your intellectual property without your expressed consent. You may be eager to sue the apparent violator for copyright infringement. However, you shouldn’t rush to file a lawsuit. The individual who used your work may have done so lawfully under the concept of fair use. An experienced intellectual property attorney can review how your material was used and advise you whether it warrants filing a copyright infringement lawsuit in California.