Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fair Use and You

[The following pertains to laws and regulations of the United States only. Please check your local laws as they are likely to be different.]

The Fair Use Act comes up a lot in creative endeavors. It allows for a number of necessary uses of copyrighted material, and as such it needs to be discussed. Those uses are research, education, and parody, all of which are necessary for a free society. After all, if I am absolutely forbidden from using copyrighted material, I can't use it for reviews, compiling lists, and it becomes immune to being made fun, all of which runs counter to running of a society where information and humor are key.

Education and research are pretty basic. The material must be used in such a way as to educate others on the topic, and in such a way that it is obviously educational. This allows it the material to be critiqued, reviewed, and used an an example of a relevant topic. Yes, that includes textbooks, and yes, this means that the original creator may not get any money from it, but he or she does need to be recognized. It also allows relevant information to be compiled, and for the material to be used in a report without needing to know who the copyright holder is. It may end up sucking to be the creator of the material in question, but it does allow information to flow freely, and allow people to make more informed choices.

It should be noted that merely compiling the strips does not constitute fair use. If I'm discussing perspective and I decide to use a few strips to illustrate the point, that constitutes an educational use. If I compile Top Ten lists and occasionally use strips, that constitutes fair use as well. If all I do is show a number of strips without some kind of context and without permission then I'm improperly using those strips, even if I don't intend to profit from them. Okay, so that's a major point by itself: The intent to profit (or not) is superfluous to determining fair use, so don't count on it.

Parody is a hard one, as people confuse it with satire. A "satire" is a hopefully humorous poke at society, whereas a "parody" is making fun specifically of the source material. Granted I can combine them, but the issue here is that I need to use enough of the original material to count as a parody, and not just a satire. In other words, if I were to use Gabe and Tycho from "Penny Arcade" to make a point about video gamers in general, that is to satirize video gamers, but I don't refer to the strip, then I have not parodied the comic and as such have no fair use protections. On the other hand, if I make fun of the strip while making a bigger point about gamers, then I have parodied it and thus have fair use protections.

It's important to understand the difference between satire and parody for those making comics in order to avoid legal issues with the original creators. It's just as important for creators for them to understand education and research in order protect themselves. Learn it, live it, love it; knowing the limits of fair use can help you protect yourself.

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