Internet Copyright & Fair Use

Copyright Issues and Fair Use on the Internet

The fair use doctrine permits limited use of copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright owner. In general, using copyrighted material for criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching or research purposes is not considered copyright infringement. In determining whether a particular use of copyrighted material may be classified as “fair use” a court will examine the following four principal factors:

  • Purpose: Is the information being used for commercial or educational purposes?
  • Nature: What is the nature of the copyrighted material being used?
  • Quantity: What portion of the original work is being used in relation to the whole?
  • Effect: How will the use of the copyrighted material impact the potential market?

A lot of people use the Internet for creative or marketing purposes. A large portion of what is in cyberspace is derivative. If you are uncertain about whether your work falls outside the legal boundaries of fair use laws, or believe someone has unlawfully infringed upon your copyright, an experienced lawyer can help you understand your rights and responsibilities.

When Should You Seek Copyright Registration?

Copyright protection attaches to a work of original authorship as soon as it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression–writing, photos, recordings are common examples. 17 U.S.C. Section 102 There is no requirement that the work be registered with the Copyright Office or that a copyright notice be affixed.

It makes sense to register and affix a notice in many cases.  17 U.S.C. Section 411(a) says that a copyright must be registered before the owner can bring suit for copyright infringement. Section 412 says that awards of statutory damages and attorney’s fees are available only if the copyright has been registered.

It may be hard for you to prove actual damages or the amount of the defendant’s profits from infringement, awards of statutory damages and attorney’s fees are on balance the best approach for many. Statutory damages are awarded in the court’s discretion, up to $30,000 for infringement of a given work (Section 504(c)(1)), or up to $150,000 in a case of willful infringement (Section 504(c)(2)). A defendant who can prove the infringement was innocent can usually reduce the amount of actual or statutory damages.  Presence of a copyright notice can help a plaintiff defeat an innocent infringement defense.

Copyright Terms and the Public Domain in the United States

Here is a link to a chart on the Cornell Law School Site that sets out all the copyright terms and when items pass into the public domain.

Worried about a lawsuit or dispute arising out of fair use, copyright, domain name, website, key word advertising or other internet issues such as contract or fraud? Call us for a free consultation. Beverly Hills Business Attorney Galen Gentry can help you protect your business. Whether yours is a start up or a going concern we can help minimize lawsuit exposure and effectively litigate disputes. With 22 years of experience and the highest rating for legal skills and ethical conduct from and, Galen can work with you to avoid costly legal problems through proper planning. Call today for a free, no obligation consultation. Serving clients in Southern California including Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Hollywood, The San Fernando Valley, Glendale, Pasadena, Ventura County, Orange County and Long Beach.