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How does the 'Fair Use Law' affect your written works?

After spending any amount of time in the entertainment industry, you more than likely took steps to protect your written works. You copyright your materials in order to protect them from someone else using them without your permission or without providing you with appropriate compensation.

That may not be enough to keep someone from using your materials without your permission, however. You confront the individual or company who took your words, and they claim they had the right to use them under the Fair Use Law. Does this law really allow someone else to use your words without your permission or compensation?

What copyrights cover

From your efforts to copyright your materials, you probably already know that your ideas are not what receive copyright protection. Other items that don't receive this legal protection include the following:

  • Facts
  • Titles
  • Slogans
  • Pen names
  • Government works
  • Blank forms
  • Standardized material
  • Names
  • Extemporaneous speeches

Instead, it is the way you express or phrase your ideas that receive legal protection.

What the Fair Use Law covers

When it comes to the Fair Use Law, others may be able to legally use your materials for the following purposes:

  • Comment
  • Criticism
  • Parody
  • News reporting
  • Scholarship
  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Making copies for educational purposes

The law only covers using summaries, quotes or excerpts, not your work in its entirety. This law covers a lot of gray area, which means that courts need to take each case on its own merits. One court may allow the use while another may not.

What the court covers

When attempting to determine whether someone's use of your materials falls under the Fair Use Law, the court applies a four-pronged test as a starting point. First, the court looks at how much the use changed, or transformed, your original materials. Second, the court looks at whether the material is factual or creative, along with whether you published the material.

Third, except for parody, the court looks at whether the material represents a central point of the work. It also looks at how much of your work the other party used. The more information used and the more central the information, the less likely it falls under fair use. Finally, the court looks at whether the use affects your income from the material. Of course, the court reserves the right to consider other factors specific to your claim as well.

As you can see, the court has a great deal of discretion when it comes to cases involving the Fair Use Law. You will need to present strong evidence that the other party violated your copyright and that the violation does not fall under the Fair Use Law. In order to increase your chances of success, it may be worthwhile to make use of the legal resources available to you in the Los Angeles area.

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