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What is the fair use exception in copyright law?

The Copyright Act does not prohibit all use of copyrighted work. So-called fair use of copyrighted work is allowed. Generally, fair use is a use which is done for a limited and "transformative" purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize or parody a copyrighted work. Fair use is thus a defense to a claim of copyright infringement. Determining what use is considered "transformative" and what is not is difficult. There are no hard and fast rules governing the question, and the question has been decided in various ways by various different courts. It is a fact-intensive analysis.

Generally, one who is commenting upon or critiquing a copyrighted work is allowed to reproduce some of the work. So a music reviewer may quote lines from a song. A book reviewer may quote several paragraphs from a book. A teacher may copy a news article for use in lesson. The rationale behind allowing such use is that there is a public benefit which outweighs the rights of the copyright holder.

Parody is another form of use that is generally considered to be a fair use. A parody is a work that imitates, comically, a well-known work. By its nature, parody requires taking from the original work. Parodies are thus generally allowed to fairly extensively use the original work.

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