A Fair Use Primer for Graduate Students [GradHacker]

A Fair Use Primer for Graduate Students [GradHacker]

In my latest post for GradHacker, I tackle another aspect of copyright law: fair use.

When I close my eyes and try to imagine what a Campbell’s Soup can looks like, I am not sure if what I see is the actual object or one of Andy Warhol’s famous works. These iconic cans, regardless of their importance to modern art and American history, are a tangle of popular culture, artistic expression, and copyright litigation, all of which knot around the concept of fair use.

Fair use is a designation within US copyright law, which recognizes that certain people under certain circumstances are allowed to use copyrighted materials without obtaining permissions or licenses in advance. Whereas Creative Commons makes materials available with minimal protections or none at all, fair use provides a few legal exemptions for copyrighted materials. There are limits to these exceptions, but they cover most forms of “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.”

If Campbell’s had decided to sue Warhol for copyright infringement, his defense would have most likely been based on fair use. He may have argued that his appropriation of popular culture constituted a criticism of it and that his intentions were to create art (not cash). Although tenuous, given Warhol had to settle a later copyright dispute out of court, this example illustrates the flexibility of the doctrine of fair use.

Although we, as graduate students, frequently employ materials under this provision, I find we rarely take time to understand exactly what it entails. I have come across professors and other instructors who span the gamut on this issue. Some seem to think that anything is covered under fair use, like a copyright carte blanche to do what they want with others’ materials; others interpret the flexibility as a constant threat looming over them, so they avoid utilizing copyrighted materials at all costs…

For the rest of this post, check it out at GradHacker!

[Image by Flickr user Ben Mason and used under the Creative Commons license.]

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