Copyright Office Updates (May 2015)
by Niel Chamberlin-Wolfe and Karen Wetherell Davis, Esq. (Elliott, Ostrander & Preston, PC)
In our March and April workshops, Copyright Basics and Basics of Online Infringement Remedies for Creatives, we discussed some complex copyright issues, especially involving what constitutes fair use and how to protect and use images in the digital age. The U.S. Copyright Office has recently announced that it is taking some steps in an attempt to clarify or provide support for these issues.
First, the Copyright Office has launched its first Fair Use Index (http://copyright.gov/fair-use/). This is a searchable database of U.S. court case summaries involving fair use under the Copyright Act. The Index can be searched by jurisdiction, category and type of use. Each entry summarizes the facts, questions at issue, and decision of the court.
Please note, however, that, while the Index is a good resource and helpful to get a general sense of courts’ decisions in this area, the Index does not provide legal analysis or opinions about specific circumstances. As most fair use opinions are highly dependent on the facts in that particular case, you cannot necessarily depend on other cases’ decisions to provide guidance in your situation. If you have a question about whether a use is “fair use”, it is still a very good idea to seek legal counsel right away.
Also, the U.S. Copyright Office has put out a call for public commentary on use and protection of visual works on the Internet. As discussed at the April workshop, people often are confused about what works are free to use and what works are protected by copyright. Even when a user is trying to follow the rules and obtain permission to use a work found online, it often is difficult to track down the author to seek permission. In addition, authors of digital graphic materials are finding it difficult to protect their content online, and are suffering a decline in income from the increase in unauthorized uses of their works. Wanting input from both sides of the issue, the Copyright Office seeks comments from copyright owners and consumers of online graphic material. All comments must be submitted electronically through the comment submission page on the Copyright Office website (http://copyright.gov/policy/visualworks/) by July 23, 2015. The full Federal Register notice seeking comments can be read at http://copyright.gov/fedreg/2015/80fr23054.pdf.