Copyright Exceptions and Limitations

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As was shown in The International Framework of Copyright Law, all of the international copyright agreements permit countries to make certain exceptions to the rights we have described thus far. Every country has indeed made such exceptions. The purposes of these exceptions vary. Some are justified by the need to respect freedom of expression or privacy. Others are intended to prevent copyright law from frustrating rather than fostering creativity. Still others recognize the impossibility of monitoring and charging for some uses. The list of exceptions is very long. In general, the exceptions should be considered just as important as the rights they qualify. Together, they are intended to strike a balance between the interests of authors and the interests of users and the public at large. For this reason, it is sometimes said that the exceptions create "user rights."

The exceptions take one of two forms. Exceptions of the first type identify specific permissible activities. An influential example of this approach is Article 5 of the EU Copyright Directive. Section 2 of that article authorizes EU member countries to provide for the following exceptions to the right of reproduction:

(a) in respect of reproductions on paper or any similar medium, effected by the use of any kind of photographic technique or by some other process having similar effects, with the exception of sheet music, provided that the rightholders receive fair compensation;

(b) in respect of reproductions on any medium made by a natural person for private use and for ends that are neither directly nor indirectly commercial, on condition that the rightholders receive fair compensation which takes account of the application or non-application of technological measures referred to in Article 6 to the work or subject-matter concerned;

(c) in respect of specific acts of reproduction made by publicly accessible libraries, educational establishments or museums, or by archives, which are not for direct or indirect economic or commercial advantage;

(d) in respect of ephemeral recordings of works made by broadcasting organisations by means of their own facilities and for their own broadcasts; the preservation of these recordings in official archives may, on the grounds of their exceptional documentary character, be permitted;

(e) in respect of reproductions of broadcasts made by social institutions pursuing non-commercial purposes, such as hospitals or prisons, on condition that the rightholders receive fair compensation.''

Section 3 then authorizes member states to create any of the following exceptions both to the right of reproduction and to the right to communicate or make works available to the public:

(a) use for the sole purpose of illustration for teaching or scientific research, as long as the source, including the author's name, is indicated, unless this turns out to be impossible and to the extent justified by the non-commercial purpose to be achieved;

(b) uses, for the benefit of people with a disability, which are directly related to the disability and of a non-commercial nature, to the extent required by the specific disability;

(c) reproduction by the press, communication to the public or making available of published articles on current economic, political or religious topics or of broadcast works or other subject-matter of the same character, in cases where such use is not expressly reserved, and as long as the source, including the author's name, is indicated, or use of works or other subject-matter in connection with the reporting of current events, to the extent justified by the informatory purpose and as long as the source, including the author's name, is indicated, unless this turns out to be impossible;

(d) quotations for purposes such as criticism or review, provided that they relate to a work or other subject-matter which has already been lawfully made available to the public, that, unless this turns out to be impossible, the source, including the author's name, is indicated, and that their use is in accordance with fair practice, and to the extent required by the specific purpose;

(e) use for the purposes of public security or to ensure the proper performance or reporting of administrative, parliamentary or judicial proceedings;

(f) use of political speeches as well as extracts of public lectures or similar works or subject-matter to the extent justified by the informatory purpose and provided that the source, including the author's name, is indicated, except where this turns out to be impossible;

(g) use during religious celebrations or official celebrations organised by a public authority;

(h) use of works, such as works of architecture or sculpture, made to be located permanently in public places;

(i) incidental inclusion of a work or other subject-matter in other material;

(j) use for the purpose of advertising the public exhibition or sale of artistic works, to the extent necessary to promote the event, excluding any other commercial use;

(k) use for the purpose of caricature, parody or pastiche;

(l) use in connection with the demonstration or repair of equipment;

(m) use of an artistic work in the form of a building or a drawing or plan of a building for the purposes of reconstructing the building;

(n) use by communication or making available, for the purpose of research or private study, to individual members of the public by dedicated terminals on the premises of establishments referred to in paragraph 2(c) of works and other subject-matter not subject to purchase or licensing terms which are contained in their collections;

(o) use in certain other cases of minor importance where exceptions or limitations already exist under national law, provided that they only concern analogue uses and do not affect the free circulation of goods and services within the Community, without prejudice to the other exceptions and limitations contained in this Article.

The set of exceptions contained in Article 5 of the EU Copyright Directive is surely not the only example of the enumerated-list approach. The three-step test, discussed in [The_International_Framework_of_Copyright_Law], gives individual countries considerably more latitude in selecting exceptions and limitations than the EU has exercised. Some countries have gone a good deal further.

The second general approach is to state some general guidelines for permissible uses and then delegate to the courts responsibility for applying those factors to individual cases. The premier example of this approach is the fair use doctrine in the United States, which is embodied in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act:

Notwithstanding the [statutory provisions granting copyright holders exclusive rights], the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Courts in the United States have relied on this provision to recognize exceptions for a wide range of activities, including the making of a parody of a copyrighted work, reproducing a portion of a copyrighted work for the purpose of scholarship, and using a videocassette recorder to record a television program or movie for viewing at a later time.

In between these two general approaches is a strategy sometimes known as "fair dealing." A good example is the system used in Australia. The Australian Copyright Act (as amended in 2006) identifies some broad circumstances in which an unauthorized use of a copyrighted work might be considered fair: research, criticism or review, news reporting, legal advice, and parody or satire. Merely falling into one of these boxes does not mean, however, that a particular activity will be deemed fair. Rather, the courts consider individual cases by consulting a set of factors that loosely parallel the factors used in the US system. In general, the courts will excuse conduct within these boxes if they deem it appropriate "judged by the criterion of a fair minded and honest person." The Australian approach is generally thought to be less unpredictable -- but also less flexible -- than the US approach.

A separate and nearly universal exception to the rights of a copyright holder is the first sale doctrine. The first sale doctrine says that once a consumer has lawfully purchased a copy of a copyrighted work, the copyright holder no longer has the ability to control that particular copy. For this reason, resale, lending, or rental of a lawfully purchased copyrighted work is generally permissible. However, countries can impose certain limitations on these rights. They may restrict or require compulsory licenses for certain uses of copyrighted works. For example, as indicated above, a nation may prohibit the rental of goods that are easily and frequently copied, such as software or phonorecords. Additionally, a nation may require that the author of the work be paid a certain fee upon resale of a copy of a copyrighted work. (This so-called "droit de suite" only exists in a few jurisdictions, and even there only applies to unique works of fine art.)

The operation of the first sale doctrine is less intuitive with digital works. This is because what may seem like normal use from a consumer’s perspective may actually involve the making of additional digital copies. This in turn could be prohibited by the author’s exclusive right of reproduction. For example, if a consumer purchases a CD, she can listen to it on any CD player without worrying about infringing the author’s copyright. She can also, because of the first sale doctrine, lend that CD to a friend who can listen to it on a CD player and then give it back, without worrying about infringing the author’s rights. However, if that same consumer purchases a sound recording online, listens to it, and then emails a copy to a friend, she will have violated the copyright law (even if she deletes her original copy) because the original recording has been “reproduced.” There remains a serious policy question as to whether the first sale doctrine to govern such cases, but as yet that has not occurred.

Additional Resources

In 2001, Siva Vaidhyanathan published Copyrights and Copywrongs: the Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity. The thesis of this highly accessible book is well captured by its title. For an interview with Vaidhyanathan, in which he summarizes his argument, see Copyrights and Copywrongs((.link_red)).

For a similarly accessible study that takes a much more favorable view of the evolution of the rights and exceptions associated with copyright, see Paul Goldstein, Copyright's Highway: From Gutenberg to the Celestial Jukebox (2003) -- available only in print or via audio download.

Two helpful WIPO studies are WIPO Study on Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for the Visually Impaired and WIPO Study on Limitations and Exceptions of Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Environment.

Copyright Exceptions in the UK is just what it says.

For a highly accessible study of latitude that filmmakers (particularly in the United States) enjoy when quoting copyrighted material, see Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi, Recut, Reframe, Recycle (Center for Social Media 2008).