In general, fair use is the copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work.   Such uses are done without permission from the copyright owner.  Therefore, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement.  If your use qualifies as fair use, then it would not be considered an infringement.

There many myths and misconceptions about what constitutes copyright infringement and fair use.  Below are some common myths and an explanation of the rules.

Myth 1:  If a work does not have a © symbol, it is not protected by copyright.

Since 1989, a copyright notice is not required to protect a work.  Even without a © symbol, the creator maintains all rights to the work.  The work also does not need to be registered with the Copyright Office to be protected.

Myth 2:  Works on the internet are in the public domain so it can be used without permission.

Copyright laws apply to everything posted on the internet, unless it is in the public domain or created by the U.S. Government.  Copyright protection is not lost simply because the work is posted on the internet.  Further, how a work is displayed does not impact whether it is protected by copyright.

Myth 3:  Works can be used if I give credit to who the author or owner is.

Giving credit to the work does not render the use legal.  Even if credit is given, if no permission is given, there is copyright infringement.

Myth 4:  Minimal use of a song or a selection from a novel is allowed. 

There is no bright line rule on what quantity of work is okay to use without seeking permission.  In general, the analysis will turn on the portion used, its relation to the work as a whole, and the effect of the use on the potential market for the original work.

Myth 5:  A documentary can use images and music without permission.

Regardless of whether someone is creating a documentary or a film for commercial purposes, permission must be obtained to use images and music belonging to someone else.

There are no hard-and-fast rules to what qualifies as fair use – there are only general rules and varied court decisions that are open to interpretation.  Whether a use is fair will depend on the specific facts.