We here at the OTW talk a lot about how most fanworks are legal under copyright law, but we know that most people find copyright law a little bit mysterious. One reason for that is that the answer to most legal questions is “maybe.” This is particularly true for questions about the copyright doctrines of fair use and fair dealing, which are the doctrines that make (most) fanworks legal as a matter of copyright law.
So to celebrate Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week, we wanted to provide some answers to one of the questions we get most often: Why are Fanworks (Usually) Fair Use?
U.S. (and several other countries’) copyright law is limited by the doctrine of “fair use,” which protects free expression by giving people the right to use copyrighted material in certain ways without getting permission or paying. The doctrine of “fair dealing” does the same thing in Canada, the UK, and a number of other countries. Courts in the U.S. have held that fair use is “not merely excused by the law, it is wholly authorized by the law.”