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'Every Week Is Fair Use Week'
Posted On March 10, 2015
From Feb. 23 to 27, 2015, many professionals within the information industry celebrated the second annual Fair Use Week. Similar to Open Access Week, Fair Use Week is a loosely organized, weeklong event during which libraries, universities, museums, archives, and individuals raise awareness about fair use. As explained on the Association of Research Libraries’ (ARL) website, “Fair Use Week is simply a time to promote and discuss the opportunities presented by fair use, celebrate successful fair use stories, and explain the doctrine.” Harvard University’s copyright advisor, Kyle K. Courtney, launched the inaugural event in 2014. After its success, ARL teamed up with Courtney to help organize this year’s Fair Use Week to promote participation among a broader set of institutions.

For this year’s celebration, ARL sponsored an official Fair Use Week website. Highlights from the site include the Fair Use Fundamentals infographic (available for remixing and reuse with a CC BY license) and a well-curated collection of resources about fair use and copyright that others can use, with a general slant toward materials that are relevant to libraries. The resources include a catchy music video about users’ rights from Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, a myth-busting guide to copyright, and a special podcast of Radio Free Culture. The Good News About Library Fair Use, another infographic also available through the site, could be particularly valuable to libraries.

While ARL is maintaining the website, Courtney has continued to curate the Fair Use Week Tumblr, which was started in 2014. Materials shared via Tumblr include an eclectic mix of quotes, scholarly musings on international copyright law, internet memes about fair use, links to essays, and a wide mix of resources. Several individuals and groups have contributed materials to the Fair Use Week Tumblr. For instance, the College Art Association shared its new Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts. The Tumblr also offers some thought-provoking graphics inspired by scholarly essays and legal decisions.

Fair Use Week Celebrations

The celebration of this year’s Fair Use Week wasn’t limited to libraries and academia. Cartoonist, animator, and activist Nina Paley participated in a reddit ask-me-anything session to answer questions about art and fair use. Authors Alliance, a nonprofit organization that, according to its mission statement, “promotes authorship for the public good by supporting authors who write to be read” was also involved in supporting Fair Use Week. Authors Alliance member Michael Madison published a lengthy blog post, “Fair Use Best Practices and Creative Communities,” which focuses on issues of copyright and fair use as they relate to authors. As he explains, “[W]hile copyright’s exclusive rights are important to authors as creators of individual works, fair use is equally important to authors as members of communities.”

Two organizations at the forefront of advocating for openness, Creative Commons and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), contributed to Fair Use Week. The folks at Creative Commons shared a blog post about Fair Use Week, reminding readers of certain issues related to fair use, copyright, and open licenses. Of particular importance is the following statement:

Anything that claims to grant ‘permission’ to do things allowed under fair use is problematic because it promotes ‘permission culture’ and increases FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about fair use. This maxim goes for open licensing just as it does anything else, which is what makes the treatment of fair use in [Creative Commons’] licenses so important.

EFF offered a plea to Congress in a blog post, “Congress’s Copyright Review Should Strengthen Fair Use—Or At Least Do No Harm,” which details some challenges with current copyright law and identifies areas of current law that EFF suggests should not change. Furthermore:

Because copyright applies to trillions of files and streams, whether trivial or profound, that flow through the Internet every day, and because nearly every transmission or use of digital data involves making a copy, copyright pervades the Internet. Now more than ever, limits like fair use are critical to protect Internet users from runaway copyright liability.

A few high-profile blogs within the tech community also picked up on Fair Use Week. Techdirt founder Mike Masnick wrote in a headline, “Reminder: Fair Use Is a Right—And Not ‘An Exception’ or ‘A Defense’.” His point is hammered home throughout the article, and it is a critical point for librarians to emphasize:

It is a right that is protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has regularly referred to ‘fair use’ as a ‘safeguard’ of the First Amendment, allowing copyright law to be compatible with the First Amendment. As such, it seems bizarre that fair use is not seen as the default, rather than the other way around. If we are to protect the First Amendment, and not allow for speech to be stifled, at the very least, we need a greater recognition of the importance of fair use in guaranteeing that the First Amendment’s principles of free speech are allowed to thrive.

One important theme echoed in many blog posts and on the Fair Use Week website is that “every week is fair use week”—that fair use is something we should believe in and employ on a daily basis. As posted to the Wayne State University Libraries’ blog, “Indeed, fair use is employed on a daily basis by students, faculty, librarians, journalists, and all users of copyrighted material. Fair Use Week is simply a time to promote and discuss the opportunities presented by fair use, celebrate successful fair use stories, and explain the doctrine.” For other ideas about how to raise awareness and celebrate fair use every day and any day, check out #fairuseweek on Twitter. 

Abby Clobridge is the founder of and principal consultant at FireOak Strategies (formerly Clobridge Consulting), a boutique firm specializing in knowledge management, information management, and open knowledge (open access, open data, open education). Abby has worked with a wide range of organizations throughout the world, including various United Nations agencies; private sector companies; colleges and research universities; nonprofit, intergovernmental, and multi-stakeholder organizations; and the news media. She can be found on Twitter (@aclobridge).

Email Abby Clobridge

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