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Did recent SCOTUS holding weaken copyright protections?

by | Apr 16, 2021 | Intellectual Property

Did Google illegally use Oracle’s Java programming language? Or was it fair use? Google stated the technology was so foundational that if the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in favor of Oracle, it would be the equivalent of saying architects cannot use bricks to build buildings.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed with Google.

What is fair use?

Inventors and artists who create new work or products can protect these creations with various forms of IP protections. Examples include trademarks, copyrights, and patents. When it comes to copyrights, there are some situations when another artist or creator could use portions of the protected work to create a new work. In order to do so, the user must be able to establish that the use was “limited and transformative.” This is fair use.

The question of what constitutes fair use and what is copyright infringement is hotly debated. As discussed in a recent piece by Marketplace, this Google case is an example of the expansion of fair use by the courts.

But expansion of fair use is not the only thing the courts are doing. There are multiple cases that put limitations on this defense to claims of copyright infringement. In one notable example, a photographer accused famous artist Andy Warhol of violating copyright protections on a photo of the musical artist Prince. In this case, the court stated that Mr. Warhol’s use was not transformative, but that the piece Warhol created was “substantially similar” to the photographer’s photo. As such, the court found the work in question a violation of the photographer’s copyright protections.

What does this mean for the future of copyright protections?

This area of law is constantly evolving. The courts continue to provide guidance that can help determine future claims and it is important to stay informed of these claims before moving forward with your own.