Fair use of copyrighted content

Fair use is a US defence available for allegations of copyright infringement that asks, in all the circumstances, was the use of the copyrighted content fair? This covers things like reproducing sections of books for teaching students, or creating and sharing memes online. The Productivity Commission has recommended Australia adopt fair use, but groups representing copyright holders are against this. Would you support a fair use amendment? What ways do you use content that might be covered under fair use?

1 Like

I am a member of a photographic group, which in turn is a part of a state wide group. That group is then a member of an Australia wide group of photographers which in turn has an association with similar groups around the globe. Clearly this involves a large number of amateur photographers, mostly retired individuals, although certainly not all.

One activity of these clubs is the creation of Audio Visual presentations, which consist of a collection of photographic images combined with a sound track to produce a story lasting around 3-5 minutes on average. Members compete against each other in a similar manner to other club competitions. Audio Visuals (A/Vs) form a branch of photography competitions which are the mainstay of camera clubs around the world.

These A/Vs are not produced for any commercial purpose, simply for the limited acclaim that winning a competition brings to the author of any photographic material produced by club members. The sound tracks often consist of musical excerpts from appropriate audio files either copied from the personal libraries of the photographer or from other sources such as the internet. Various other sounds files, images etc are similarly obtained and incorporated within the Audio Visual production.

Clearly the use of such material is limited, and within a club environment scarcely worth the fees often charged for legitimate use of the “borrowed” material. In any event, given the limited resources of both club members and clubs, payments of fees would necessarily make the production of A/Vs impracticable and financially unsustainable, particularly as copyright fees often legitimise use for very short periods of time. A/Vs may be exhibited on several occasions spanning several years, and constant renewal of permissions would be impractical on several levels.

Given that no real commercial use is made of this content, and it is used purely for the amusement of local club members, it is simply not viable for participants to comply with copyright restrictions as part of this strictly amateur pastime. Nevertheless, the existing rules do force these participating club members to engage in a technically, if not ethical, breach of copyright laws. Complying with copyright legislation in such cases is simply not practicable. In my view this is a case of overreach in that it applies an unrealistic limitation and expectation on A/V participants as an unintended by-product of a much more globally significant piece of legislation. There is a real need to avoid having such trivial use of copyrighted material engulfed as collateral damage under a much larger and broader piece of legislation.

1 Like

As far as I know, the US laws are a mess, and do not stop piracy. Friends who have tried to find redress under the US law have found it pretty useless unless you are a multinational company or very well known with a bottomless pocket, in practice the system favours the US citizen, particularly on social media sites like Youtube.
Under the US system I am not allowed to purchase a Kindle book on Amazon.au, break the DRM and convert it to pdf to be able to print which can make a book unfit for purpose if it contains music or diagrams that would, in the normal way of things, be necessary for the purpose of reading the book. I have several text books like that that are either out of print or simply far too expensive or complicated to get hold of over here, but Amazon.au only sells Kindle books, not hard copies.

I take the position (I think I got it from Cory Doctorow) that copyright as currently written is a reasonable way to regulate negotiations between powerful corporations and publishers (and after all that’s who it was written for), but not a reasonable way to regulate the behaviour of ordinary citizens in an age when nearly every act of speech or creative endeavour counts as publishing.


I agree, the problem with so much of our legal framework is that it tries to be all things to all people but fails. There are simply too many ramifications and ultimately people find themselves in invidious legal situations, subjected to laws which have no sensible application in their circumstances.
Laws are also framed at a certain point in time, and society is a constantly changing environment which changes far more quickly than the legislators capacity to keep up. A classic example is the way in which teenagers sexting each other find themselves listed as sex offenders, when in reality they may simply be testosterone charged, immature teens who need a prod in the right direction rather than a life changing criminal record.
Copyright laws need to look more at the circumstances, the significance and the magnitude of any “fair use” that individuals might make of copyrighted material.


Australia seems to have a lax attitude to print copyright. I belong to a community group, one member of which raised her experience as the author, publisher and only retailer of her books. These books have all turned up on the National Library of Australia webite FOR SALE in their entirety as pdf from NLA. This is despite the clause “not to be entered into any retrieval system or data base without (author’s) permission.” She contacted NLA but didn’t receive any reply of substance, then escalated it to her Federal member who passed on a 4 page reply basically saying “they have the right to do this”. She also noted that half the libraries that held her book did not buy it from her - although it is possible these copies were bought privately and donated. One of her works is “Australians Behind the Camera : directory of early Australian photographers, 1841 to 1945” Vol 1 & 2, Barrie, Sandy, if anyone wants to look. She also claims a manuscript that was provided to a researcher at the National Gallery appeared in Google Books before she could publish. Would “Fair Use” curtail this? or has the horse bolted already? Unfortunately I am not sufficiently knowledgeable with regard to Australian Copyright law. I seem to remember there was a recent ruling on Google Book’s right to reproduce books which was defended as only allowing a “fair use”, limited pages view.