Understanding the law regarding fair use can save your career. Not knowing the law is not going to excuse you if you infringe on someone’s copyrighted material. The financial penalties can be quite severe, not to mention the irreparable damage that can be done to your reputation. The four factors listed in section 107 of the Copyright statute are as follows
1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes. – The courts tend to be more forgiving of noncommercial, or non-profit use, such as educational purposes.
2. the nature of the copyrighted work. – Use of reference materials, news items, and so forth is generally more acceptable than creative works.
3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. – Use of a small excerpt, or a non-significant sample of the work, such as in a review or critique, is usually acceptable.
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. – If the recreated work does not replace the original, or diminish its importance or value, it is more likely to be allowed.
The penalties for infringement are strict, up to $150,000 for each willful act. Even if you are unaware of the laws you can still be fined. The only provision is called The good faith fair use defense [17 USC 504(c)(2)], stating that if the person has a reasonable certainty that what he or she did was fair use, it may be excusable.
It is in the best interest of everyone who works with copyrighted material to be well-versed in the laws regarding fair use. You could easily find yourself on either side of a legal battle, and knowledge of your rights will be vitally important to your success.