After a considerable amount of interest in my prior article on Fair Use, I have decided to expand on the subject.
Free Republic, LLC, owner of the political website freerepublic.com, was found liable for copyright infringement in L.A. Times v. Free Republic for reproducing and archiving full-text versions of plaintiffs' news articles even though the judge found the website minimally commercial. She held that "while defendants' do not necessarily 'exploit' the articles for commercial gain, their posting to the Free Republic site allows defendants and other visitors to avoid paying the 'customary price' charged for the works."
The April 2000 opinion ruled concerning the four factors of fair use that 1) "defendants' use of plaintiffs' articles is minimally, if at all, transformative," 2) the factual content of the articles copied "weighs in favor of finding of fair use of the news articles by defendants in this case," though it didn't "provide strong support" 3) concerning the amount and substantiality prong, "the wholesale copying of plaintiffs' articles weighs against the finding of fair use," and 4) the plaintiffs showed that they were trying to exploit the market for viewing their articles online and defendants didn't rebut their showing by proving an absence of usurpation harm to plaintiffs. Ultimately the court found "that the defendants may not assert a fair use defense to plaintiffs' copyright infringement claim."
The Supreme Court of the United States described fair use as an affirmative defense in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. his means that, in litigation on copyright infringement, the defendant bears the burden of raising and proving that his use was "fair" and not an infringement. Thus, fair use need not even be raised as a defense unless the plaintiff first shows (or the defendant concedes) a "prima facie" case of copyright infringement. If the work was not copyrightable, the term had expired, or the defendant's work borrowed only a small amount, for instance, then the plaintiff cannot make out a prima facie case of infringement, and the defendant need not even raise the fair use defense.
Because of the defendant's burden of proof, some copyright owners frequently make claims of infringement even in circumstances where the fair use defense would likely succeed in hopes that the user will refrain from the use rather than spending resources in his defense. This type of lawsuit is part of a much larger problem in First Amendment law. Because paying a royalty fee may be much less expensive than having a potential copyright suit threaten the publication of a completed work in which a publisher has invested significant resources, many authors may seek a license even for uses that copyright law ostensibly permits without liability.
The frequent argument over whether fair use is a "right" or a "defense" is generated by confusion over the use of the term "affirmative defense." "Affirmative defense" is simply a term of art from litigation reflecting the timing in which the defense is raised. It does not distinguish between "rights" and "defenses," and so it does not characterize the substance of the defendant's actions as "not a right but a defense."
In response to perceived over-expansion of copyrights, several electronic civil liberties and free expression organizations began in the 1990s to add fair use cases to their dockets and concerns. These include the Electronic Frontier Foundation ("EFF"), the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Library Association, numerous clinical programs at law schools, and others. The "Chilling Effects" archive was established in 2002 as a coalition of several law school clinics and the EFF to document the use of cease and desist letters. Most recently, in 2006, Stanford University began an initiative called "The Fair Use Project" (FUP) to help artists, particularly filmmakers, fight lawsuits brought against them by large corporations.