On my for-profit website, users can rate and comment on works of literature, film, and music, most of which are copyrighted. The only information I include is:

1.) Title

2.) Release date

3.) MPAA rating, if it is a movie

4.) Similar works

Does this count as fair use of the work?

4 Answers 4


Titles can't be copyrighted.

Meta-data like #2 aren't copyrighted.

Not sure if the MPAA could protect its ratings, but I can't find anywhere that it has asserted restrictions on the use of those.

If the list of "Similar works" is not somebody else's intellectual property then there's no problem. (If it is I'm not certain what protection it could be eligible for.)

  • 1
    Related-works data could be eligible for sui generis database protection in certain jurisdictions, but I'm not 100% sure. (The U.S. doesn't recognize such a right, and I'm only mildly familiar with other countries, so don't take my word for it -- read it for yourself :).)
    – apsillers
    Sep 8, 2015 at 2:33
  • 1
    The MPAA can protect it's ratings (i.e. you can't claim to have a rating you don't actually have, or have a rating when you don't), but it cannot claim damages or infringement from releasing what rating if any a film has. It is meta-data like #2.
    – sharur
    Jun 17, 2016 at 1:17

Your website is probably fair use. In the 2013 case of Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google Inc., the court held that Google Books was permitted to scan books and provide snippets to the readers.
The court found the following benefits of Google Books. 1. It provided new and efficient ways for readers to finds books. 2. It promotes research and data mining. 3. It gives access to books to underserved populations. 4. It helps to preserve books and it gives them new life. 5. It helps to sell the books because the researcher is directed to a link where they can purchase the book.

Ultimately the court held Google Books is fair use because Google only used snippets of the book. The case. https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=140462947356925233&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

  • That case was interesting b/c Google lost originally, but won on appeal b/c it was found to be a significant public benefit. Its a pretty interesting. I agree w/ the lower court.
    – gracey209
    Sep 7, 2015 at 21:24

This is not fair use because you haven't even used anyone else's copyrighted materials. Fair use is a defense again prima facie cases of infringement that the law nevertheless permits; however, in your case, you don't even come close to having a prima facie case of infringement. In copyright terms, your uses are already squeaky-clean before a fair use defense even needs to be considered.

  1. Title: The U.S. Copyright office has explicitly stated that titles are not eligible for copyright.

  2. Release date: Copyright only protects creative works. Historical factual information is not eligible for copyright. (Indeed, imagine the robust censorship possibilities if I could somehow enforce copyright protection on public facts about myself.)

  3. MPAA rating: While the decision-making process that goes into assigning a rating probably requires a modicum of creativity, a single letter or two simply isn't eligible for copyright under any circumstances. Again, this appears to be a matter of historical fact, i.e., the MPAA historically did assign such-and-such rating to this movie. (The brief descriptions about why a rating is assigned, like "some violence" are likewise ineligible for copyright; the link above about titles also applies to short phrases.) If MPAA ratings were comprehensive documents that explained the rationale behind each rating, such a document would be protected by copyright, but a simple rating score is not.

  4. Similar works: If you compiled the mapping of related works, this certainly can't be fair use because you yourself are the copyright holder! You certainly have no need to defend the use of your own work. This mapping is a "complilation" and is protected by copyright. From 17 U.S.C. §101:

    A “compilation” is a work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship.

    As long as the complication was created using creative direction, it qualifies for copyright. This means, of course, that if you did not make this compilation yourself, you'd need permission from the author who did. It's very unlikely that using someone else's compilation in this wholesale, non-transformative way would be defensible under fair use.

  • good answer. I certainly hold copyright in the words and language of my novel, and quite possibly also in the characters and novel central ideas (to a point)...but I clearly can't claim copyright in the fact that my novel exists.
    – dwoz
    Oct 7, 2015 at 17:30

All courts do a case-by-case examination of the facts, using a “Four Factor test” to analyze whether the doctrine Fair Use applies in a given situation.

The four factors are stated in the opinion of the Joseph Story in Folsom v. Marsh, 9 F.Cas. 342 (1841) (widely cited – even in the most recent of cases). This case had to do with a guy (the defendant) who'd copied hundreds of pages from the plaintiff’s multiple-volume biography of George Washington, so as to produce a separate work of his own. (Most of what he copied are letters Washington wrote – so there is also the public right need to know analysis – but much of this was not original.)

If you want a book on the subject that cites a number of sources and discusses all of the law on copyright and fair use, Infringement Nation: Copyright 2.0 and You, by John Tehranian, is a good resource for people in your position as it cites many cases and scholarly articles as well as discussing the landscape of using copyrighted works in today's society.

Under this case, what became abundantly clear is that Fair Use is not a finite legal rule with a one-size-fits-all definition. It is also just an affirmative defense if you're ever sued under the theory of copyright infringement. To know if your site is a fair use, I'd objectively try to apply the test a court would. It sounds to me like you'd be fine, but only you know the intricacies of your site.

Folsom is often touted as the landmark case that created safeguards of copyright law against over-protection and for maintaining the balance between private exclusion power and public "accessibility to information and knowledge."

Notwithstanding the provisions of...copyright laws....the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction...for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching ...is not an infringement of copyright.

In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered (now codified in 17 U.S. Code § 107) shall include:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

See also:

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