November 24, 2015 / by Katie Gaab

Forty-five percent of executives think it’s okay to share other brands’ information as either digital or print paid content.

But copyright violations can have disastrous consequences.

Social media has shifted discussions on this topic and last month’s decision on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act made the lines between copyright and fair use even blurrier.

To keep you on top of this ongoing, messy debate, we’ve decided to look at a few recent headlines that point to one, or a combination, of the four factors of fair use to justify using copyrighted material in “limited and transformative” ways.



In 2013, a photographer brought a lawsuit against BuzzFeed for the use of a photo he originally posted in Flickr. After he sent a takedown notice, the website took down the photo and updated its post, however, the photographer alleges the photo had already spread virally to other websites without proper attribution.

This ongoing case has the public contemplating the way viral content hubs choose and use images in their listicles and articles. A similar settled case found that news agencies and journalists cannot use Twitter photographs without first asking permission.

Media outlets aren’t pointing towards fair use to defend the use of other’s material. More recent outcry surfaced in response to Richard Prince’s New Portraits series where he added emoticons and comments to original Instagram posts and put the results on display.

Both examples show how complicated the term “fair use” has become and the power behind the purpose factor.



Facebook recently reported that it receives more than 4 billion video views each day, more than YouTube. But this changing environment has upset those who rely on advertising revenue from their YouTube videos.  

According to a report from Ogilvy and Tubular Labs, 725 of the 1,000 most popular Facebook videos at the beginning of 2015 were re-uploaded from outside sources.

Taking frustration with this to the Web, YouTube star Hank Green expressed his opinions on the topic in a Medium article.

While the debate hasn’t made it to the courts, the discussion between Facebook and Green shows how the nature factor may grow more complicated as we continue to increase the use of video in marketing efforts.



While comedians must rely on others’ materials for parody and sketches, the amount they take to work with can cause a scene just as easily as someone reusing statistics from one infographic for another.  

This can be seen with the recent Twitter joke debacle Conan O’Brien’s team got themselves into earlier this summer. A lawsuit was filed against the late night show’s host for using jokes published previously on Twitter.

The decision that will stem from this case may bring into question other practices comedians are making, such as hosting readings of tweets.


Brands do a lot of thinking about the original creator, but often forget to look at the bigger picture: long-term value.

An example of the effect factor of fair use can be seen in the recent Fox News clips ruling. A federal judge ruled a permanent injunction against TVEyes, which previously permitted customers to watch live FOX streams, or download video clips to edit and share with others for a $500 monthly fee.

This lawsuit has gone through three rounds of decisions, underlining the changing arena and need to have a deep knowledge of fair use before reclaiming it.

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Images: Marco Gomes·tlc∙Gage Skidmore (Creative Commons)

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About Katie Gaab

Katie Gaab is a content marketing specialist for Cision. Previously the senior editor for Help A Reporter Out (HARO), she enjoys connecting audiences to exciting, new content. She's a dancer, avid concert-goer, foreign language nerd and book worm. Find her on Twitter @kathryngaab.