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What is “fair use” in a copyright infringement defense?

Feb 7, 2024 | Copyright & Trademark Litigation and Applications

Intellectual property (IP) is a work or creation, such as a logo, design, name, code or image that has legal rights that protect creators from having their materials stolen. An IP can be registered with a copyright, trademark or patent. Each of these options gives an IP additional protective rights, such as limiting how an IP can be used with or without a creator’s permission, having an IP registered by someone else or having an IP reproduced and distributed.

The internet provides an excess of information for individuals to use. However, using an IP without the right permission could create legal issues with a creator. In some cases, an IP may be legally used under “fair use” laws. Here’s what you should know:

When can you use intellectual property without permission?

Fair use allows people to use intellectual property without seeking permission from a creator. For example, an IP may be used for teaching purposes. The IP may have non-profit, educational use in a presentation or training. Likewise, using an IP for scholarly research may be fair use.

Many comedians use IPs in a satirical manner. When a parody of an IP is made, then it may be considered fair use. An IP may also be used for news reports or criticism, such as on talk shows.

Another way people can use IPs without the creator’s permission is by seeking public domain resources. A creation becomes public domain when it meets several criteria, such as a copyright expiring. One famous example of an IP entering the public domain and becoming fair use is Mickey Mouse from the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie. However, this freedom of use only extends to this specific version of Mickey Mouse.

Knowing whether an intellectual property is safe to use can protect you from legal issues. If you’re accused of infringing on copyright protections, you may need to learn about your legal rights.