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May 4, 2015 / carlispina

Learn More About Fair Use With The U.S. Copyright Office’s Fair Use Index

Last week, the U.S. Copyright Office released a brand new Fair Use Index. This new resource aims to make the complicated concept of Fair Use more approachable to those who may not have a background in law by offering a database of some of the most important court cases that deal with Fair Use. While it is a very helpful and interesting new resource for those who are interested in copyright, I think it is important to carefully consider what it does and does not have to offer.

Users can navigate the Fair Use Index by both court and subject category by selecting or deselecting from the options given as seen below. As options are checked or unchecked, the list of relevant cases at the bottom of the page automatically updates to show only the cases that meet the selected criteria. Beyond this, there is no way to further refine search results and there is no option to conduct a keyword search.

Index Screenshot

For each case that is included in the Index, this results list displays the citation, year, court, jurisdiction, subject categories, and case outcome. Clicking into a case does not display the full text of the opinion, but instead offers a fairly brief summary of the facts, issues, and holding of the case. While legal experts would be quick to point out that this is no substitute for the full text of an opinion, I think the Index intentionally opts to provide only summary information to highlight the fact (as stated on the homepage) that “it is not a substitute for legal advice.” Having said that, the summaries are more accessible to users without legal training than a full court opinion may be and offer an overview of the key holdings with respect to Fair Use.

The Copyright Office has said that it will periodically update the Index to include more cases and I think that it will be a valuable resource for those interested in learning more about Fair Use. However, I do hope that users without legal training understand that these case summaries do not represent the full legal nuance of concepts related to Fair Use and are only a way of guessing how a future case might be decided rather than an absolute answer. But, even if this database cannot answer every Fair Use question that might arise, it will help people to gain a fuller understanding of how courts have applied Fair Use in the past and, hopefully, will encourage people to feel more confident in their determinations of what Fair Use means for their own work.

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