It’s Fair Use Week, and organizations and individuals are publishing blog posts, hosting workshops, and sharing educational media about the implementation and importance of this essential limitation to the rights endowed by copyright. Fair use is a flexible legal tool that permits some uses of copyrighted material without permission from the original rightsholder, such as for use in news reporting, criticism, teaching, and other reasons. A fair use is not an infringement of copyright.
The doctrine of fair use sits under the larger umbrella of limitations and exceptions to copyright. These limitations are a necessary check on the exclusive rights granted to copyright holders. Even though fair use has only been adopted by a small number of countries, in Europe there are several exceptions that are central to supporting permission-free uses of copyrighted content for various public interest goals. Both fair use and flexible copyright exceptions serve the same basic purpose, but under different legal landscapes.
We’ve highlighted several commonsense limitations to copyright that should be adopted and standardised throughout the EU. These include exceptions for educational use, for cultural heritage institutions to be able to share out-of-commerce works online, for freedom of panorama, and for audiovisual quotation. It’s important that these exceptions are made mandatory and are fully harmonised across all EU member states.
We’re especially interested in how limitations and exceptions to copyright can support modern education practices. Last month we published a policy paper outlining the requirements for a progressive EU-wide exception to copyright for educational purposes. This exception should 1) address local and cross-border education needs; 2) be mandatory; 3) be neutral with regard to media type, format, and technology; 4) be flexible; and 5) cover all necessary uses provided they are in accordance with fair practice.
As we observe Fair Use Week 2016, we’re happy to see that users around the world are taking advantage of limitations and exceptions—an important safety valve to the rules of default copyright. We’re hopeful that in the coming months the Commission will support the creation of exceptions that balance the interests of rightsholders with the needs of the public who wish to use copyrighted works in creative and educational ways.