Monday, July 20, 2015
The Fair Use App: Copyright Law for Those Who Can't Afford a Lawyer
The people at New Media Rights, a non-profit affiliated with the California Western School of Law, have developed an interesting new legal app called The Fair Use App. It is designed to help filmmakers and video editors understand the fair use doctrine in U.S. copyright law. The app runs users through a series of questions about their use of others’ content and explains how their answers to each question affect the availability of the fair use doctrine. In effect, it’s a digital flowchart.
Fair use is a complicated, multi-factor analysis, so there is no final yes-no answer. But this app would be a good start for a filmmaker trying to understand the law.
The app’s not perfect. For example, at one point, it asks if the content being used is in the public domain, with no explanation of what that means. I doubt most lay people would know exactly what that means. And I’m not a copyright expert, so I can’t say whether it’s substantively correct on all points. But, assuming it is, it’s a good tool. Consulting with an experienced copyright lawyer would be better, but most of the people using this app wouldn’t consult a lawyer anyway because they can’t afford a lawyer. This app is better than their alternative—no help at all.
I think there should be more tools like this, aimed at people who can’t afford lawyers. For some time, I have been thinking about developing something similar to explain the Securities Act registration requirements and exemptions to startup entrepreneurs raising capital. Many of those people start raising funds without consulting a securities lawyer, and many of them inadvertently violate the law (one reason I think there should be an unconditional de minimis exemption for offerings below a certain amount). An app like this could at least warn them of the dangers.
Legislators and regulators often forget that there is a tier of regulated people out there who can’t afford counsel and won’t understand the regulations. Thanks to people like New Media Rights for doing something to serve those people.
It doesn't take long to run through the app. If you're interested, it's available here.