Category Archives: Fair Use

Authors Alliance Petitions for New Exemption to Section 1201 of the DMCA

Posted September 14, 2017
photo of CD with padlock

photo by 422737 |CC0

Last month, we reported in detail on our petition to the U.S. Copyright Office to renew exemptions to the DMCA for lawful uses in multimedia e-books. Now, together with Professor Bobette Buster and the Organization for Transformative Works, we have also filed a petition to modify the exemption to Section 1201 as part of the Copyright Office’s seventh triennial rulemaking process.

The new petition, filed today, requests the following:

  • Lawful circumvention of DRM for use in fiction multimedia e-books (the current exemption is restricted to nonfiction multimedia e-books);
  • Allowing circumvention of DRM for use in multimedia e-books on other subjects besides film analysis (the current exemption allows for uses in film analysis only);
  • Removing limitations that refer to screen-capture technology.

We’re grateful to law students from legal clinics at the UC Irvine and the University of Colorado, Boulder for their work preparing the petition.

Further details can be found in the full text of our petition. Hover over the document below to view the petition in your browser, or download here.) Authors Alliance believes that multimedia e-books are an important form of authorship and wants to see authors empowered to fully realize their promise. We will continue to track the progress of the 2017-2018 rulemaking and provide updates as they become available.

Authors Petition for Modification

Authors Alliance Petitions to Renew Multimedia E-Book Exemption to Section 1201 of the DMCA

Posted August 1, 2017
photo of CD with padlock

photo by 422737 | CC0

While copyright law generally provides for exceptions like fair use that maintain our ability to criticize, comment on, and transform copyrighted works, some courts have held that these exceptions do not apply to the anti-circumvention provisions of Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), for the most part, do not recognize these kinds of exceptions. Evading digital rights management (DRM), even when done for otherwise lawful purposes—such as education and criticism—may be prohibited by law. However, every three years, the Librarian of Congress is empowered to approve discrete, temporary exemptions from the law in order to carve out space for non-infringing uses caught up in the DMCA’s broad sweep.

In February 2015, in response to the U.S. Copyright Office’s sixth triennial rulemaking session, Authors Alliance joined with author Bobette Buster, the American Association of University Professors, and counsel from legal clinics at the UC Irvine and the University of Colorado, Boulder to submit comments in support of exemptions that would allow authors to make use of DRM-protected multimedia content in e-books. That spring, our team attended hearings in Washington, DC to make a case for the exemptions, and in October 2015 the Copyright Office released its final rule, which includes an exemption for multimedia e-books offering film analysis.

That exemption allows e-book authors to circumvent digital locks on Blu-rays, DVD, and digitally transmitted video such as downloads and streaming for purposes of film analysis. The rule gives authors access to a wealth of high definition content—particularly, from Blu-ray—that they need in order to make fair uses in multimedia e-books.

Now, as we approach the seventh triennial rulemaking session in 2018, our team has submitted a petition to renew these exemptions. (Further details can be found in the full text of our petition. Hover over the document below to view the petition in your browser, or download here.) Authors Alliance believes that multimedia e-books are an important form of authorship and wants to see authors empowered to fully realize their promise. The freedom to author e-books that incorporate film for the purpose of analysis, consistent with the core tenets of the First Amendment and academic freedom, remains significant and important. We will continue to track the progress of the 2017-2018 rulemaking and provide updates as they become available.


Resource Roundup: Fair Use

Posted March 8, 2017
 “"Rustam Lassos Rakhsh", Folio from a Shahnama (Book of Kings)” by Abu l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020) via The Metropolitan Museum of Art is licensed under CC0 1.0

“”Rustam Lassos Rakhsh”, Folio from a Shahnama (Book of Kings)” by Abu l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020)
via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, licensed under CC0 1.0

As many of our readers know, fair use is one of our favorite subjects here at Authors Alliance, and we enthusiastically joined with libraries and other like-minded organizations in the celebration of Fair Use Week last month. For this installment of our periodic Resource Roundup, we’ve compiled a collection of helpful online guides and tools on the subject of fair use. Although by no means comprehensive, we hope it will inspire you to explore and create using the incredible array of materials now available online!

Codes of Best Practices in Fair Use
Comprehensive guides for various creative communities from the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University

Fair Use Evaluator Tool
This step by step tool, created by the ALA, enables users to support and document their assertions of fair use

Fair Use Toolkit
A comprehensive collection from the ACRL of copyright and fair use tools and websites

Fair Use Week Resource List
Includes this year’s “Myths and Facts About Fair Use” infographic

U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index
A searchable database of legal opinions and fair use test cases

And, in case you missed it, here is a terrific new resource released last month that has no restrictions on reuse and remixing:

375,000 works from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, now freely available under CC0 license thanks to a partnership with Creative Commons

Got suggestions for other sites you depend on for quality content in your writing, teaching, or creative pursuits? Let us know, and we’ll feature them in a future Roundup!

Can Fair Uses Be Made of Copyrighted Works for Online Courses?

Posted February 23, 2017


The following is a Fair Use Week guest post by Authors Alliance President Pamela Samuelson.

Faculty members who assign a few scholarly book chapters to their students for nonprofit educational purposes should be able to rely on fair use when posting them on course websites, according to the brief Authors Alliance filed in support of Georgia State University’s (GSU’s) fair use defense in the copyright lawsuit brought by Cambridge University Press (CUP).

GSU’s fair use defense was bolstered by various limits it put on the posting of copyrighted book chapters. Faculty members had to fill out fair use checklists, taking into consideration, among other things, whether the amount assigned was reasonable in light of the pedagogical purpose they had in assigning the materials. Only enrolled students could access the in-copyright materials, they could access them only through password-protected course reserves, and this access was only authorized during the term the students were enrolled in that class or seminar. For the most part, only one chapter per work was assigned. GSU faculty mostly used the online course websites for supplemental materials, having assigned readings from textbooks and other materials that students had to buy. The overwhelming majority of the chapters at issue were scholarly works written by academic authors on specialized topics used for small courses or seminars from works published a decade or more before. All of these factors supported the trial court’s fair use ruling.

The Authors Alliance brief explained that academic author incentives to write scholarly book chapters would, contrary to CUP’s claim, not be harmed and might well be enhanced by such uses of the chapters for GSU classes. Academic authors generally write scholarly book chapters to share the knowledge and insights they have attained with others and hope that publishing the chapters will enhance their reputations for contributions the authors made to their fields. In addition, publishers’ incentives to continue to publish scholarly books should not be harmed by the limited uses GSU faculty and students were making of the book chapters because publishers get the chapters for free and expect to derive revenues largely from sales of books.

The fair use calculus changes if course websites hosting such materials are open to the general public, if multiple chapters from the same book are utilized in online courses, if the chapters are from textbooks relevant to especially large enrollment classes, and if the online course is part of a for-profit enterprise.

This is not to say that such uses could not be fair, but faculty members would be well-advised to be more cautious in posting in-copyright materials, such as book chapters, on course websites under these circumstances.

Fortunately, the proliferation of scholarly articles and book chapters on pre-print servers in various fields, the adoption of open access policies by universities, leading foundations, and government granting agencies, and the greater willingness of publishers to agree to nonprofit educational uses or open access licenses means that there are many scholarly works available to be used for online courses these days. It is unfortunate for authors who assigned copyrights in book chapters or journal articles back in the days when pre-print servers and open access policies were not available that their works will be less widely read than they would wish, but it may be worth asking publishers to be willing to agree to at least limited nonprofit educational uses such as those being made by GSU faculty and students.

That being said, CUP has filed an appeal of the trial court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law that all but a few of the challenged GSU online course reserves uses were fair. Until the appellate court ruling comes down, one cannot be sure that GSU’s uses are fair. Still, the appellate court upheld much of what the trial court held about fair use the last time CUP ruled, and sent the case back for further proceedings under a somewhat revised framework that the appellate court spelled out. Because the trial court carefully followed that revised framework and made findings in line with the appellate court’s guidance, I am cautiously optimistic that the court of appeals will affirm.

For further reading on fair use, refer to the Fair Use FAQ on the Authors Alliance Resources page.

First Sale, Fair Use, and Digital Downloads:
Capitol Records v. ReDigi

Posted February 22, 2017


In honor of Fair Use Week, we are delighted to feature this guest blog post from NYU Technology Law & Policy Clinic students Cassie Deskus and Kristen Iglesias discussing the role of fair use in the ReDigi case.

The Second Circuit will soon hear arguments in Capitol Records v. ReDigi, a case that will determine if and when consumers will be able to resell lawfully owned digital media. ReDigi provided an online marketplace for reselling music purchased from iTunes. ReDigi’s software allowed users to transfer music from their computer to ReDigi’s cloud servers, where it was offered for sale. Upon a subsequent sale, the software transferred the file to the buyer’s computer. The transfer process attempted to avoid copyright issues by employing strong verification safeguards and ensuring that there was only ever one full copy of the song in existence at any given time.

If ReDigi had been in the business of reselling physical CDs or books, resale would have been an uncontroversial application of first sale—a doctrine which permits the owner of any lawfully owned copy to dispose of that copy without restriction. The District Court, however, held that each song transfer was an unlawful reproduction, effectively preventing the owner of a digital work from reselling it. Unless the opinion is reversed, the only way consumers will ever be able to resell their digital music or books is to sell their entire digital device. In other words, to resell a $0.99 eBook you finished reading years ago, you’d have to sell your entire tablet and all of its contents!

This should be concerning to all creators of digital works. Without lawful resale, the “secondary markets” we enjoy in the physical sphere–libraries, used bookstores, garage sales, and even donations–cease to exist in the digital sphere. Not only will authors be unable to reach the same listeners and readers via digital publication that they might through analog publication, but those same listeners and readers won’t be able to easily share the digital works that they love.

That’s why the NYU Technology Law & Policy Clinic filed an amicus brief on behalf of over 20 copyright scholars, including several Authors Alliance members, arguing that any alleged unlawful reproductions are covered by either first sale or fair use.

As many Authors Alliance members know, the first factor of fair use is “the purpose and character of the use.” We argued that exercising a copy owner’s first sale rights, which have been recognized by courts and Congress for over one hundred years, is about as fair a purpose as can be. The public benefits resulting from digital secondary markets also favor this interpretation. The fact that ReDigi was a commercial enterprise does not change this outcome—indeed, many commercial uses of digital copyrighted works have been held to be fair use. ReDigi’s platform parallels secondary markets that have always existed in the physical realm; such markets are a testament to copyright law’s tolerance for, and accommodation of, robust resale rights. We hope that the Second Circuit reverses the lower court and preserves digital first sale, especially given the strong fair use arguments favoring ReDigi. If you’d like to read the rest of our argument, the entire brief is available here.

Fair Use Week: Our Best Practices Guide is Underway!

Posted February 21, 2017

ARL-FairUseWeek-Logo-BlueThis Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week, we’re highlighting a new project that’s of special interest to any non-fiction author who has ever been baffled by fair use. Following on the success of our educational guides for rights reversion and open access, we are hard at work on our latest project: a new guide to fair use best practices for non-fiction authors. Inspired by the work of Peter Jaszi and Patricia Aufderheide at the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University, the third volume in our growing library of educational resources will focus on best practices for nonfiction authors—from biographers to science writers, historians to literary critics, memoirists to academics, and beyond—who depend on the use of copyrighted materials in their work.

Authors Alliance is partnering with the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley Law to draft the guide, which will feature extensive input from non-fiction authors, copyright experts, and partner organizations. The goal of this fair use guide is to empower authors to exercise their right to use source materials to further their research and writing goals by helping them to make confident fair use decisions. The guide will help nonfiction authors who want to do things like:

  • Include song lyrics in an academic paper discussing musical trends;
  • Use several lines from a novel to analyze the author’s use of metaphors in a work of literary criticism;
  • Use a chart in a scientific paper to demonstrate a process;
  • Incorporate a photograph in a biography to provide historical context;
  • And much more!

We plan to release the guide this year, and look forward to keeping our members, allies, and partner organizations up to date on the project. If you have a question, concern, or real-life example of a fair use issue that you would like to see addressed in the guide, let us know! We can always be reached at

Authors Alliance Amicus Brief Supports Fair Use Defense in Georgia State Case

Posted February 13, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 4.40.54 PM

Since our founding, Authors Alliance has supported a robust interpretation of fair use that helps authors keep their works discoverable and in the hands of readers. We’ve published a number of opinion and policy articles on the subject, and our members and allies may recall that we filed an amicus brief in support of Google in the Authors Guild v. Google Books litigation, in which we argued that Google’s snippet views of scanned books from libraries made books more discoverable and served a public good by enhancing access to millions of works. We welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case, thereby ending the decade-long litigation and allowing the district court’s ruling in favor of fair use to stand.

Now, Authors Alliance has weighed in again on the fair use question, this time in the matter of Cambridge University Press v. Albert. The case turns on whether faculty at Georgia State University (GSU) infringed Cambridge University Press’ and other publishers’ copyrights by assigning chapters from scholarly books to their students via secure course websites. GSU argues that this limited use for nonprofit educational purposes falls within fair use, and we have filed an amicus brief with the 11th Circuit in support of that argument. In the brief, we highlight that academic authors’ primary motivation to write and publish scholarly works is grounded in their desire to share and advance knowledge. Many of our members are academic authors, and one of our members is the author of a chapter at issue in the case. They—and we—believe that this limited use of copyrighted content in a nonprofit educational setting meets the test for fair use. In the brief, we present three main arguments in support of this interpretation:

  • Incentives to write and publish scholarly book chapters will not be impaired by a ruling that nonprofit educational uses of these chapters is fair use.
  • The use of fact-, method-, and theory-intensive scholarly book chapters assigned primarily because of the originality of ideas, theses, research, data, and methods they contain, rather than on originality of expression, should tip in favor of fair use.
  • New options in digital publishing and trends toward open access in scholarly communications favor the fair use ruling.

The full text of the brief may be read here. We will continue to follow the case and provide updates on new developments in the litigation.

Authors Alliance Comment to U.S. Copyright Office Supports Print-Disabled Readers

Posted November 9, 2016

As part of our ongoing advocacy in the space, Authors Alliance has again responded to the U.S. Copyright Office’s call for further comments regarding anti-circumvention provisions in Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. We believe in making reasonable exemptions from the law that protects digital “locks” that keep content inaccessible. In the past, we have successfully advocated for for such an exemption supporting the creative work of multimedia ebook authors, and earlier this year, we submitted comments in support of streamlining the law’s rulemaking process.

Our most recent comment is in favor of a permanent exemption that would improve access to copyrighted works by people who are blind, visually impaired, and print disabled. There is broad consensus that such an exemption is beneficial and necessary; in fact, it has been granted in every rulemaking cycle since 2003. We fully support a permanent exemption that would help make our members’ works accessible to these audiences. Read the full text of the comment here.

New Survey Informs Our Guide to Fair Use for Nonfiction Authors

Posted November 3, 2016


CC0 image by andibreit

In partnership with organizations that support nonfiction authors, Authors Alliance is developing a Fair Use Best Practices Guide for Nonfiction Authors to help nonfiction authors navigate fair use. To make this the most effective and useful resource possible, we’re requesting your help via a short survey.

Nonfiction authors often incorporate preexisting material in their works (e.g., quotations, images, figures, lyrics, and sound recordings). Sometimes including preexisting material is permitted under an exception to copyright protection called “fair use,” but other times such uses require obtaining permission or a license from the copyright holder. It can be difficult for nonfiction authors or publishers to know when to rely on fair use and when to seek permission or a license.

Our forthcoming Fair Use Best Practices Guide for Nonfiction Authors will identify the most common situations that nonfiction authors encounter when incorporating preexisting materials into their works. It will also provide authors and publishers with guidelines that reflect the community’s understanding about acceptable fair use practices when using these materials. We need your help to make the resource useful to the nonfiction author community!

Please take ten to fifteen minutes and respond to our survey by November 18, 2016. We greatly appreciate your input on this important issue. Your responses will help to inform this guide and build a useful resource for you and your colleagues.

Important Fair Use Decision Stands, Helps Keep Authors’ Works Findable

Posted April 18, 2016

Pamela Samuelson, President, Authors Alliance

There was very good news for authors in the Supreme Court’s decision not to review last year’s ruling in the Authors Guild v. Google litigation. That decision, which will now stand, found that Google’s scanning of in-copyright books from research library collections for purposes of creating an index and serving up snippets in response to user search queries was fair use, not copyright infringement. The Authors Guild’s leadership (and its lawyers) are undoubtedly disappointed in this outcome. But all authors who want their books to be found by readers who are interested in learning from those books have reason to celebrate the end of this decade-long litigation.

While we obviously can’t know for sure what the Court would have done had it decided to hear the Guild’s appeal, it is fair to infer that the Court was not so outraged by the Second Circuit’s ruling that it felt compelled to put the case on its docket. The Court’s rejection of the Guild’s petition does not, of course, mean that it approved the fair use ruling. Yet it is worth noting that the Court gave considerable deference to Judge Leval’s conception of fair use in its 1994 Campbell v. Acuff-Rose decision. It was the very same judge’s fair use analysis that the Court would have reviewed had it taken the Authors Guild v. Google case.

Authors Alliance filed a friend of the court brief in support of Google’s fair use defense, saying: “Book Search makes it possible for many who are not privileged to have physical access to research library collections to be able to discover that our works exist.  Interested researchers should be able to find in an efficient way the ideas and contributions to human knowledge contained in our writings. We want our intellectual legacies to extend to a new generation of readers who nowadays search and find books almost exclusively online. Creation of a full-text searchable database of books provides these benefits.”

Judge Leval recognized the public benefit in making books more findable: “Google’s making of a digital copy to provide a search function is a transformative use, which augments public knowledge by making available information about Plaintiffs’ books without providing the public with a substantial substitute for matter protected by the Plaintiffs’ copyright interests in the original works or derivatives of them.”

Judge Leval could have gone on to say that authors of published books want those books to be findable and to be useful to readers who are looking for information that the books contain. So it isn’t just the public (and Google) who benefit from Book Search, but these authors as well.