Copyright on the Campaign Trail

At this point in the election cycle, the discussion about who will be elected as our next president dominates the 24 hour news cycle, water cooler conversations and our social media feeds. As political campaigns create videos, news clips, advertisements and other content to inform and influence the outcome of the election, they are coming into contact with an important part of our nation’s copyright law called fair use.

First amendment protections are embodied in fair use, which allow everyone to use existing scientific and cultural material without permission, under certain circumstances. To determine if a particular use is fair use, four factors are applied: 1) the purpose and character of your use, 2) the nature of the work, 3) the amount and substantiality of the portion taken and 4) the effect of the use on the market for the original.  

Campaigns at all levels — from the presidential race to state and local races — depend on this important legal doctrine to perform their daily activities. This includes everything from posting on Facebook to livestreaming a town hall to criticizing opponents. For example, fair use comes into play when producing TV, digital, print and radio ads. A campaign might produce an attack ad to highlight the opponent flip-flopping on tax increases during a TV interview. In this case, the interview is copyrighted; however, fair use allows for legal use of a short clip of the full interview to be utilized.

Another example is livestreaming. A campaign staff member livestreaming a candidate’s speech on Facebook Live is permissible under fair use. Without it, the livestream would be an unlicensed use of the written speech, which is a protected work. Even popular Saturday Night Live (SNL) skits spoofing a campaign ad, or other existing work by a campaign relies of fair use protections.

The below “Fair Use on a Campaign” infographic helps break down this concept by illustrating how much political campaigns rely on fair use. But, it’s not only about campaigns. When voters post and share videos, excerpts from news stories, Saturday Night Live clips, and utilize the many other ways to engage each other in discussions about candidates and the election, they too are benefiting from fair use protections.

Originally posted on Real Clear Policy.

This is the fourth in our series of “day in the life” fair use infographics to help break down the important role it plays in our daily lives, especially in this digital age.

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