What is fair use of otherwise copyrighted material?

The concept of intellectual property confuses many people. Laws that allow people to own an idea or concept may seem strange on the surface. However, they serve an important purpose, as they incentivize innovation and creativity.

Without intellectual property protections, anyone who created something unique, beautiful or functional would likely have their ideas stolen by someone else who would make money on it. Intellectual property protections and copyright laws serve a great purpose by allowing creators to profit from their work. However, they also contain intentional leeway for those who create or provide commentary on works of art, science or business.

Many uses that may initially seem to infringe on a copyright can actually be legal under fair use standards. Learning more about fair use can help you make informed legal decisions.

Fair use is a term that extends legal protection to a creative work

When a creator publishes a unique work, whether they do so by selling a logo to a corporation or publishing a video on the internet, that work then becomes part of a larger cultural dialogue. Other artists and creators, as well as cultural critics, may have an interest in using a copyrighted concept or image as a way to criticize or comment upon it.

For example, altering a logo to call to mind some past criminal activity by the CEO of the corporation would be a fair use of a copyrighted image. If the person using the copyrighted image can make an argument that their intent was to parody, criticize or otherwise comment on the work in question, their end product is likely not a violation of intellectual property laws.

Parodies, in particular, have a lot of legal wiggle-room when expanding on an existing image or idea. However, there is a fine line between a parody and a blatant rip-off created with the intent to profit off of someone else's concept.

Intent will definitely matter in a fair use copyright case

How and why someone uses a copyrighted image will absolutely influence the way the courts rule. For example, in the aforementioned circumstance where an artist created a variation on a copyrighted logo, if they published it to social media for public consumption, that would make the intent one of criticism or commentary.

If, on the other hand, they slapped the logo on some T-shirts and started selling them for personal profit, that could muddy the waters somewhat. These cases are rarely black and white.

Whether you believe someone has infringed upon your copyright or you seek to defend yourself against claims of infringement for what you believe is a fair use situation, sitting down to talk with an experienced New York intellectual property attorney can help you determine if the fair use standard applies in your case.

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