Fair Use Doctrine - Top 10 Misconceptions
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Fair Use Misconceptions 4 – 6
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Misconception 4 – If I Use a Work that Falls Under the "Fair Use" Doctrine, I Cannot be Sued

If you use a work that clearly falls within the "fair use" doctrine that does not mean you are free from a lawsuit. The owner of the copyrighted work could still threaten to or even sue you for your use of the copyrighted work – even if the use falls under the "fair use" doctrine. Why? Because the owner might not feel that your use was "fair," and may want a judge or jury to decide whether your use falls under the fair use doctrine.

If you’re sued, you’ll have to defend yourself – and that could get costly in hiring a lawyer. So, it’s generally better to consult with a lawyer prior to using copyrighted materials under the fair use doctrine. That way you should likely have a better chance of avoiding a potential lawsuit.

Misconception 5 – Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement are Basically the Same Legal Concept

Plagiarism and copyright infringement are not the same concept. Plagiarism is based on ethical standards, while copyright infringement is based in law. Plagiarism occurs when a person uses someone’s ideas, words, creations, etc. without citing the owner of the work. We’ve all learned in school that plagiarism is wrong and students can face some steep penalties for plagiarizing someone else’s works. However, copyright infringement is different than plagiarism.

If you plagiarize a work, it does not necessarily mean you’ve committed copyright infringement. Conversely, if you commit copyright infringement, it does not necessarily mean you’ve committed plagiarism.

For example, if you quote a line from a book and cite the reference, you have not plagiarized the work but you may have committed copyright infringement. On the other hand, if you quote a line from a book and do not cite the reference, you have plagiarized the work but you might not have committed copyright infringement. In other words, the analysis for plagiarism and copyright infringement are 2 different analyses.

Misconception 6 – If You Own a Copyrighted Work, You Can Stop Others from Ever Using That Work

Even if you are the sole and exclusive owner of a copyrighted work, you cannot necessarily stop everyone else from using your work without your permission. Others may legally be able to use your work under limited circumstances such as within the "fair use" doctrine (or other exceptions).

Remember, that while ownership in a copyrighted work is generally very powerful, there are situations where others may legally be able to use your work without your consent – like under the "fair use" doctrine, which is the focus of this article.

Next, we’ll go over fair use misconceptions 7 through 9.