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What is a Fair Dealing?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2017
    Conjecture Corporation
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Fair dealing is a section of copyright law outlining exclusions to the law so people can use copyrighted work in very specific permitted ways. The concept of fair dealing is used in the legal systems of Commonwealth Nations, and should not be confused with the fair use doctrine in the United States. Each member of the Commonwealth has its own version of the law and may interpret this concept slightly differently.

Under fair dealing, people have defenses to certain copyright challenges if they can show they used the work in an authorized way. Using copyrighted works in criticism, parody, research, and reporting is generally permitted, as long as the work is appropriately attributed. If someone challenges the use of copyrighted work, the target of the challenge may be able to demonstrate that the use was reasonable under fair dealing laws and this is considered an adequate defense.

Setting up mechanisms for situations where people are allowed to use copyrighted work is designed to prevent abuse of copyright laws to suppress legitimate uses of such work. An author who does not like unfavorable reviews, for example, is not allowed to sue for copyright violations when reviewers use excerpts of the work. Creating a clear legal framework also helps people decide if they are using copyrighted work appropriately and if they need to adjust or alter their use in some way to comply with the law.

Fair dealing law usually asks people to administer a test when assessing uses of copyrighted work, asking how the work is being used, how much of it is used, and whether the work is credited. A person reprinting an entire book with editorial comments might be skirting the law, for example, while a person excerpting sections of a book chapter for criticism is engaging in authorized use. Fair dealing can also involve remixes of copyrighted work for the purposes of artistic expression; Andy Warhol's famous soup cans, for instance, have been heavily parodied by a variety of artists in homage to the original work.

People who are not sure about whether a planned use of copyrighted material is legal can consult a lawyer in their jurisdiction to get more information. If the use is not legal, it may be possible to obtain permissions by contacting the copyright holder. Once legal permissions have been secured, it is possible to use copyrighted work in a wider variety of ways.

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