- Today, my California colleague John Doolittle and I will introduce in the House of Representatives the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act which will reaffirm and reinforce the Fair Use doctrine in this digital era.
Before describing the provisions of our bill and the conditions which call for its enactment, a word about why Fair Use is important to our society and why it is worth fighting for.
The Fair Use doctrine was fashioned by the federal courts as a means of furthering the vital free expression values that are given constitutional recognition in the First Amendment. Fair Use is a pressure relief valve on what would otherwise be total monopoly control by the owner of a copyright over the use of the copyrighted material. It permits limited personal non-commercial use of lawfully acquired copyrighted material without the necessity of having to obtain the prior consent of the owner of the copyright.
We all employ the Fair Use doctrine in everyday life. From the college student who photocopies a page from a library book for use in writing a report to the newspaper reporter who excerpts materials for a story, to the typical television viewer who records a broadcast program for viewing at a later time, we all depend on the ability to make limited copies of copyrighted material without having to pay a fee or obtain approval from the copyright owner.
In fact, Fair Use of a wide array of information is essential to a range of expressive activities. In our daily conversation, we frequently use phrases from copyrighted books, articles, or songs without even realizing we are doing so. Without the Fair Use doctrine, even whistling a popular tune in the park (literally, a "public performance") would be copyright infringement. In this way, Fair Use helps to make our First Amendment rights real: In its absence, we could not engage in critical political or artistic commentary without fear of copyright liability.
The courts have wisely realized that freedom of speech and freedom of the press require the freedom to use copyrighted material on an incidental basis. Addressing the potential conflict between the First Amendment and copyright guarantees, courts have stressed that the presence of the Fair Use doctrine helps to avoid a constitutional conflict. In this way, the Fair Use doctrine has become essential to the public discourse and debate which underpins our way of life and gives vitality to our democracy.