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Understanding Fair Dealing and leveraging licensing

In the ever-evolving landscape of digital content and intellectual property, the concept of Fair Dealing remains a key feature of UK copyright law, designed to balance the interests of creators and the public.

But what does Fair Dealing actually mean and how does it impact UK professionals?

From educators to journalists, artists to office workers, understanding the nuances of Fair Dealing is crucial to anyone who relies on using published content in their day-to-day life.

What is Fair Dealing?

‘Fair dealing’ is a legal term used to establish whether a use of copyright material is lawful or whether it infringes copyright (Intellectual Property Office).

It describes some limited activities that permit the reproduction of extracts of material protected by copyright without needing to seek permission from the copyright holder.

These include Fair Dealing for the purposes of:

  • Research and private study for non-commercial research
  • Criticism and review
  • News reporting
  • Parody, caricature, and pastiche
  • Educational uses for instruction or examination

Fair Dealing in action

Examples of Fair Dealing across a variety of professional scenarios include:

  • Educators and Academics: Teachers and lecturers using very short excerpts in classroom teaching. Researchers quoting from a work for a scholarly paper.
  • Journalists and Media Professionals: News reporters using short clips or quotes from films, music, or books in a news story or documentary.
  • Artists, Comedians, and Performers: Creating a parody of a song for a comedy show or using a famous painting as a basis for a satirical artwork.
  • Critics and Reviewers: Book reviewers quoting passages from a novel or film critics showing movie stills in a review blog.
  • Not-for-profit organisations: Using news articles or multimedia in campaigns or educational materials, provided it aligns with the fair dealing criteria.
  • Graphic Designers and Marketers: Creating a pastiche of a famous advertising campaign for a marketing study or educational purpose.
  • IT Professionals and Developers: Referencing code snippets or excerpts from software manuals for educational blog posts or tutorials.

While useful, it is important to remember that Fair Dealing is not a blanket rule or to be used as a “get out of jail free card”, each case must be carefully considered and assessed. It must be fair and not affect the market value of the original work. The main question to consider is: how would a fair-minded and honest person have dealt with the work?

Is it Fair Dealing?

Fair Dealing is a useful exception to make use of when it comes to reusing published content, but there are some things to consider for it to apply:

  • Purpose: Is the use for non-commercial research, private study, criticism, review or news reporting?
  • Acquisition: Have you acquired the material lawfully and fairly?
  • Amount: Is the amount you are copying reasonable?
  • Acknowledgement: Have you acknowledged the author or source?
  • Alternatives: Was the work necessary for the end result or could different work have been used instead?
  • Effect on the market: Does your use of the work compete with the original work or are you depriving the content creator of revenue?

Before relying on Fair Dealing, it is important to ask yourself these key questions, as it is your responsibility to assess whether the material you’re looking to use infringes on any of these interests.

Fair Dealing vs. Fair Use: Understanding the differences

The term Fair Dealing is used in the UK, but it is often confused with the US concept of “Fair Use”. While similar, there are differences in limits and guidelines, with Fair Dealing being based on copyright legislation rather than case law. These terms are not interchangeable, and a use that is regarded as fair in the USA may be regarded as infringement in the UK.

Key distinctions include:

  • Scope and flexibility: Fair Use in the US allows for a flexible approach and is broader in scope, allowing for uses outside of specific categories as long as they are considered “fair”. As mentioned earlier, Fair Dealing only permits the reuse of content under specific and limited categories.
  • Legal Interpretation: The US Fair Use is subject to a case-by-case interpretation, relying on detailed analysis of each case. The UK’s Fair Dealing is more straightforward, with clearer guidelines on what constitutes fair use in the specified categories.
  • Transformative Use: The US places significant emphasis on whether the use is transformative – that is, whether it adds new expression or meaning to the original, which is less of a focus in UK law.

Complementing Fair Dealing with a CLA Licence

While Fair Dealing is invaluable and ensures fair access to published work, it leaves a lot up to personal assessment and consideration.

CLA Licences complement the concept of Fair Dealing and offer an expansion to these allowances, providing a more comprehensive and flexible solution to content reuse. They offer broader access to content protected by copyright (over 16 million print and digital publications), ensure legal compliance and reduce the risk of copyright infringement, and give content users peace of mind through a simplified process.

For example, in a business setting, Fair Dealing does not cover making multiple copies of content for internal training or presentations. A CLA Business Licence does allow for broader copying and distribution within an organisation.

Or, a CLA Education Licence lets teachers copy and share materials beyond what Fair Dealing permits, crucial for effective teaching and learning.

Types of CLA Licences:

Understanding Fair Dealing is crucial for anyone engaging with published content in the UK. It ensures respect for creators’ rights while allowing for certain freedoms in content use. However, to extend these freedoms and ensure compliance, consider supplementing Fair Dealing with a CLA Licence. This approach will enable you to navigate the complexities of copyright law with confidence and responsibility.

Act responsibly. Protect your organisation. Support creatives. Copy, Right.



Please note that this article should not be considered as legal advice and should not be relied on when determining whether a particular use of work would infringe copyright. It is always best practice to seek the permission of the intellectual property owner if unsure.


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