Fair Use

Everyone can build upon FLO works, but legal concerns limit the use of proprietary resources to what can be interpreted as Fair Use. See the Fair Use article at Wikipedia for more details.

Fair use issues for projects

Projects at Snowdrift.coop may see claims against them if they use proprietary resources in any way. We take no legal responsibility for potential infringement; projects will have to provide their own legal counsel in event of a suit. However, our fair use guidelines may help head off potential problems and handle any that arise.

Know your sources and their copyright status. To avoid any infringement claims, use only resources you know to be FLO or public domain. Works produced in the U.S. since 1923 are potentially still under copyright. Works are copyrighted even when they fail to include any copyright notice.1.

Don’t rely on special permission. A copyright holder may grant permission for a specific derivative use, but be wary of predicating your project on such special permissions; they may eventually interfere with distribution or modification of your work.

Don’t quote, paraphrase. Ideas (for example, “existentialism”) are not subject to copyright, but specific expressions of those ideas (such as “Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable”2) are subject to copyright. Take the time to phrase your ideas in your own words and cite your sources, but avoid quoting verbatim except where necessary.

When in doubt… don’t. If you have any reservations about a work’s copyright status or the permissions granted to the user, look for an FLO replacement or omit the planned use entirely.

…or refuse to self-censor, as advocated by Nina Paley’s campaign Make Art, Not Law — but recognize that civil disobedience may lead to legal consequences. Also, Snowdrift.coop does not accept these legal risks and so does not support projects that use proprietary materials beyond reasonable fair use.

If your project requires copyrighted materials, have a plan for how to defend your use. If you file your defense plan with us, we can provide it in response to any DMCA actions we may receive against your project. Sometimes, having a response prepared is enough to dissuade a copyright holder from taking the issue to court.

Know the exemptions to copyright and how they apply to your project. If you are using a lesser-known defense (other than fair use), familiarize yourself with the factors that govern its use and how they apply to your project. For example, an “orphan work” defense requires that you have conducted a good faith search for the rights holder and failed to identify them.3

Realize that fair use is not a guarantee. Fair use is a complex and slippery subject which varies in international law. In the U.S., only a judge can ultimately determine when fair use does and does not apply. Still, knowing which of the 4 contributing factors fit your project will make it more likely you would prevail in a trial and so less likely that a copyright holder will pursue the case at all. Teaching Copyright has a good guide to get you started.

If all else fails, obtain legal counsel. Snowdrift.coop can help you design your project to avoid copyright claims and provide an initial response to a DMCA order, but we cannot replace professional legal advice. If a copyright holder files suit or seeks a settlement, consult a lawyer immediately to determine your options.

Keep us updated on your legal situation. While we cannot provide you with legal advice, we may be able to temporarily remove contested content so your site can stay up while you go through the legal process. We may also be able to help you communicate with your patrons to let them know that you are working to address the issue.

  1. For example, images of Maru, an internet celebrity cat, are widely available but are all legally owned by YouTube user mugumogu and unauthorized use may be considered infringement.

  2. Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays.

  3. http://copyright.lib.utexas.edu/pdandorphan.html