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Finding Fair Use Precedent Just Got Easier

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 01, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

People don't give the Library of Congress enough credit.

It's the largest library in the world, with more than 838 miles of bookshelves and 160 million items. It's got everything from the first known book published in the New World, to some of the only remaining copies of American silent films. And its collection grows by the day, gaining 15,000 new items each day -- primarily because it's the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.

The Library knows that none of its information is useful if it can't be ... used. To that end, the Copyright Office has put out a handy new tool for any one working in copyright law. Their new Fair Use Index search tool allows you to pull up relevant cases in a snap -- leaving you more time to spend reading something really interesting.

A Helpful New Addition to Your Search Arsenal

There's plenty of great research tools out there. Of course, we're big fans of FindLaw's Cases and Codes offerings. Our sister company, Westlaw, also doesn't do too poorly in the legal research department, either. But we've got to give credit where it's due -- for a government website, the Copyright Office really has gone above and beyond in putting together its new search tool.

Fairly Easy to Use

Here's how it works. You select the jurisdiction or jurisdictions that are relevant to your needs. Immediately, without having to even press search, the fitting fair use cases pop up, with full name, blue book style citation and outcome listed.

You can hone in even more by selecting a category or two along with your search. That makes it easy to see, for example, that there's very few fair use decision regarding sculpture in most jurisdictions, but there's tons of precedent on use of unpublished work in the Second Circuit.

Once you've found the something promising, the Copyright Office's link will take you to a pdf file which provides an overview of the case. You won't get the actual opinion -- try FindLaw for that -- but you will get a brief summary of the key facts, issue and holding. It's a great way to start off your research.

So, congrats to the Copyright Office and the Library of Congress. Hopefully, other federal and state agencies will follow their lead.

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