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Exclusive Rights vs Fair Use in Music

Exclusive Rights and Fair Use

If you are the author of an original work, AND it is in fixed tangible form, AND it can be distributed, then you have copyright protection. This copyright protection is grounded in U.S.C. Title 17.

If you are the author of a work with copyright protection, then you have some Exclusive Rights (Title 17, Section 106). The author has the exclusive rights to:

  • Reproduce the work
  • Create derivative works (an alteration based on the original work)
  • Distribute copies (including who else how can distribute copies)
  • Perform the work publicly (this includes broadcast on television / radio / etc)
  • Display the work publicly

It is important to note that ‘copyright infringement’ is the UNAUTHORIZED use of copyrighted material. Such activities include copying, distributing, or performing copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder.

Section 106 (Exclusive Rights) - reproduction, adaptation, publication, performance, and display

As an author of an original work, you have significant control over how the work is used and  potentially distributed.
However, there are exceptions to these exclusive rights under the Fair Use Doctrine (Title 17, Section 107). This doctrine allows individuals to use copyrighted works without obtaining permission, provided that the use falls within specific guidelines.

While the commercial or non-commercial nature of the use is a factor, the use must also fall under one of the following categories:

  • Criticism, such as an editorial or song review
  • News reporting
  • Education, teaching, or scholarship, typically within a school environment and not necessarily available to the public
  • Research
  • Parody, which is a form of humorous social commentary where one work imitates another

The fair use doctrine has been applied in a variety of cases, including those involving news reporting, criticism, and parody. For instance, a court ruled that a news report that included a short clip of a copyrighted song was protected under fair use because the use was transformative and did not harm the market for the original song. In another case, a court ruled that a parody of a copyrighted song was protected under fair use because the parody was humorous and did not create confusion with the original song.

Section 107 (Fair Use) - criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research

Posting a Fair Use Disclaimer doesn’t automatically ensure that the work falls within the guidelines of Fair Use. Just because someone labels a work as Fair Use doesn’t necessarily make it so. It’s always preferable to obtain permission from the copyright holder before using their material to avoid copyright infringement and potential legal issues. If obtaining permission isn’t possible, you might be able to use the material under the fair use doctrine. However, it’s strongly recommended to consult with an attorney to confirm that your use of the material is indeed fair and legally acceptable.


  • If you are the author of an original work, one of your Exclusive Rights is to determine WHO is permitted to make copies of your work. (TRUE)
  • Stating “Fair Use” in the description of a YouTube video automatically means it qualifies as falling under the Fair Use Doctrine. (FALSE)