Amy T. Falcone
In our culture, owned and funded by big businesses and old man Capitalism, copyright seems like the one unbreakable rule. It presides over those who would steal material for their own gain, using what is not legally theirs for selfish purposes. Copyright is the ‘beacon in the night’ for those who own the material because anyone who breaks the law of copyright is doomed to wither away in lawsuit after lawsuit. The problem seems to be that everyone who seeks to use material under copyright could be considered a criminal. The real problem is that the copyright law is so strict, so terrifyingly severe that everyone is already a criminal. One would be hard pressed to find even a single person that has never infringed on the copyright law. So how is it then that we can go about everyday life without fear of being sued into oblivion?
Fair Use is the lifeblood of creation in our time and without it, daily life might be entirely impossible.
Fair Use allows for several important uses of copyright material (all without permission of course) including parody, quoting, commenting, and allows publishing of used material. Of course, only a fraction of the original material can be fairly used, but something has to be better than nothing in this situation. The significance of Fair Use in our day to day lives is undeniable. Imagine a student having to write an extended research paper without the ability to directly quote or even paraphrase an idea from an original source. A business office could never run without letting employees freely copy documents to be redistributed among departments. Some of the great artists throughout history would have been criminals for implementing the tradition of image appropriation in their work. Fair Use is not merely significant, it is vital.
Personally, I rely heavily on Fair Use every day. I illustrate a comic strip that only exists in space on the internet. The web-comic is out there for anyone in the world to see. Most of our content is either parody, or appropriation of existing gags. Luckily for me, parody is always covered by Fair Use. If it were not, however, I’ve compiled a short list of companies I could be sued by: Disney (who own ABC) for referencing a LOST quote, Nintendo and Microsoft for appropriating video-game characters’ likenesses, Paramount for remixing a direct scene from Happy Days, Pepperidge Farms for using the image of their Chessmen product, Wonder Bread, whoever wrote Curious George, Time Warner, Lucas Films and more to come.
As an unemployed student, I could never afford the barrage of lawsuits that would accompany using all the material I do in my work. As it stands there are over fifty cases of direct reference or appropriation in the archives of the comic. Fair Use protects my writer, web developer, subscribers and me and without it the project would simply cease to be. What is baffling is how many projects in the world would be wiped out without the benefit Fair Use allows. Lucky for me, it does exist and it does protect my right to parody whatever I want. I never have to ask permission. We called the comic [citation_needed] for some forgettable reason, now it only seems appropriate.