This article is a broad reconceptualization of the role of fair use within copyright law. Fair use is commonly thought of as just one of many exceptions limiting copyright, in contrast, this article shows that fair use has actually enabled the expansion of copyright protection. Fair use has an important structural role that is often overlooked. First, copyright necessarily must balance intellectual property incentives with the protection of free speech and innovation; fair use constitutes that balancing mechanism. By establishing the outer limits of copyright, fair use in fact enables an expansive interpretation of author's rights within those bounds. Second, because copyright works best by providing flexible principles that can accommodate technological changes, fair use also constitutes the mechanism by which Congress has given the courts a large policy making role to ensure copyright's balance. This article explains this structural function of fair use, then shows how this theory should and does apply. In doing so, it also identifies two broad trends emerging in the case law that have previously not been recognized or articulated, despite their significance. These are the principles of consumer autonomy and medium neutrality.
Date of this Version
Matthew J. Sag, "God in the Machine: A New Structural Analysis of Copyright's Fair Use Doctrine" (May 2005). Law and Economics Papers. Working Paper 4.