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Fair Use Goes International

American creators who produce for the international marketplace—and that means most documentarians these days—complain that Fair Use doesn’t cross national borders gracefully. They’re right.

But American-style Fair Use—the right to use some copyrighted material without permission or payment, when the public’s gain is greater than private loss (centerforsocialmedia.org/fairuse)—is becoming more and more popular internationally. Israel has just passed legislation reforming its copyright law (read Hebrew? Here it is: http://www.knesset.gov.il/privatelaw/data/17/3/196_3_1.rtf. If not, the English is at http://www.tau.ac.il/law/members/birnhack/IsraeliCopyrightAct2007.pdf) . It has lifted entire the U.S. Fair Use language. It has then gone one important step further, avoiding the onerous and counter-productive legal sanctions on digital copying in the U.S. Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

Canada may be next. The Canadians are in the midst of copyright reform, and lawyer Michael Geist has proposed some sound principles on the same lines. (Cory Doctorow explains it all to you, here http://www.boingboing.net/2008/01/16/fair-copyright-for-c.html). Canadians, like many ex-colonies of Britain, have "fair dealing," which is Fair Use without the flexibility (long, long, long lists of exemptions rather than general principles). Geist and others are pushing for "flexible fair dealing," a reform that would make fair dealing look a lot more like Fair Use. They would follow the example of Australia, which has already instituted "flexible dealing." Tens of thousands of Canadians have joined the reform movement, too. Meanwhile, the Candian Supreme Court seems to be pushing quietly ahead on the same project, without explicit legislative support.