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Fair Use and the Numbers

By Pat Aufderheide

Large content holders, such as the movie studios and music companies, have spent a lot of money over the years and supported the Copyright Alliance to issue reports showing that the American economy (and public culture) depends on tightly guarded copyright ownership rules. Now other economic interests are fighting fire with fire. The Computer & Communications Industry Association has sponsored a report showing that "Fair Use exceptions to U.S. copyright laws are responsible for more than $4.5 trillion in annual revenue for the United States" (http://www.ccianet.org/artmanager/uploads/1/FairUseStudy-Sep12.pdf). That number is substantially bigger than the Copyright Alliance's claims that $819 billion is contributed to the U.S. economy annually by copyright ownership. While you might quibble with the logic of either group's taking the bottom line of entire sectors of the economy, adding them up and attributing them to one or another aspect of copyright law, it is healthy to see pushback to the blanket claims of the Copyright Alliance. And there is no question that Fair Use is an essential part of the creative process in, say, documentary filmmaking. Doc filmmakers have re-invigorated their ability to use Fair Use with the consensus statement, Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use (centerforsocialmedia.org/fairuse). The CCIA has also launched a "Defend Fair Use" campaign and has even filed a complaint with the FTC, claiming that large content holders from major sports organizations to movie studios are scaring consumers with misleading copyright warnings, which don't inform them about their Fair Use rights.