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The Fair Use Doctrine
There is one rule that lets many people lawfully copy the work of others. The Fair Use Doctrine asks several questions about the use of copyrighted material to determine whether it is reasonable use. There is no simple rule about how many of the following points must be met in order for use to qualify as "Fair Use", but obviously the more the better. Much of this information is quoted from Cyberspace Law for Non-Lawyers, (Issue 7/8, and Issue 9/10)

The fair use doctrine asks several questions:
  1. Is your use non-commercial?
  2. Is your use for purposes of criticism, comment, parody, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research?
  3. Is the original work mostly fact (as opposed to mostly fiction or opinion)?
  4. Has the original work been published (as opposed to sent out only to one or a few people)?
  5. Are you copying only a small part of the original work?
  6. Are you copying only a relatively insignificant part of the original work (as opposed to the most important part)?
  7. Are you adding a lot new to the work (as opposed to just quoting parts of the original)?
  8. Does your conduct leave unaffected any profits that the copyright owner can make (as opposed to displacing some potential sales OR potential licenses of reprint rights)?
The more YES answers there are to the above questions, the more likely it is that your use is legal. The more NO answers there are, the more likely it is that your use is illegal.

The trouble is that you can't just count the answers. Sometimes even a few YESes will lead to a finding of fair use; sometimes even a few NOes will lead to a finding of no fair use. Often even the sharpest lawyers won't be able to predict the result.

(17 USC section 107)

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