Fair Use Law

This blog follows and is also protected by Fair Use Law, or Copyright Law. We use public domain images when possible from sites like Wikimedia and we strive to use official portraits of candidates/elected officials. But we also exercise our legal right to use transformative images such as thumbnails, image portions, or parodies (like memes), and videos from sites like YouTube, then we add our commentary.

Numerous U.S. Supreme Court rulings provided certain legal protections for bloggers, endowing them with the same Constitutional rights as journalists (protection when publishing what may be defamation or slanderous information provided by another source, protecting sources, etc.). In Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act of 1996, aspects of blogging were given protection from claims of copyright infringement under certain conditions. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, the Copyright Act says:

“fair use…for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

Individuals or groups may make a claim of copyright infringement and attempt to have an ISP take down a site that receives a claim of copyright infringement. This blog has the option to remove content if it agrees to a claim of copyright infringement, or to counter-notify the ISP to leave the content up. All Things Democrat has the option to sue for damages from the claimant if this site is improperly taken down. Any attempt to take down this site due to a frivolous claim will be met with a strong legal defense which may include suing for damages.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation provides important information for bloggers concerning intellectual property. A few key FAQs:

I found something interesting on someone else’s blog. May I quote it?
Yes. Short quotations will usually be fair use, not copyright infringement. The Copyright Act says that “fair use…for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” So if you are commenting on or criticizing an item someone else has posted, you have a fair use right to quote. The law favors “transformative” uses — commentary, either praise or criticism, is better than straight copying — but courts have said that even putting a piece of an existing work into a new context (such as a thumbnail in an image search engine) counts as “transformative.”

May I freely copy from federal government documents?
Yes. Works produced by the US government, or any government agency or person acting in a government capacity, are in the public domain. So are the texts of legal cases and statutes from state or federal government.

When can I borrow someone’s images for my blog post?
Images are subject to the same copyright and fair use laws as written materials, so here too you’ll want to think about the fair use factors that might apply. Is the image used in a transformative way? Are you taking only what’s necessary to convey your point? A thumbnail (reduced-size) image, or a portion of a larger image is more likely to be fair use than taking an entire full-size image.

I want to parody someone. Can I use some of their images and text in my parody?
Yes, parody is recognized as a type of fair use, like other commentary and criticism, and courts recognize that a parody must often take recognizable elements from the work it comments upon.

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