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"Fair use" is a limitation on copyright owners' exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies.
Defendant operated a visual search engine on the Internet which retrieved plaintiff's photographs and made them available to users of defendant's search engine. Plaintiff alleged copyright infringement and violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by removing the copyright management information associated with plaintiff's images. Plaintiff and defendant cross-moved for partial summary judgment.
Did the defendant’s use of plaintiff’s copyrighted images constitute a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?
The court held that the creative nature of plaintiff's images and the substantiality of copying weighed against finding that defendant's use of the images constituted a fair use of the images under 17 U.S.C.S. § 107. However, the character of defendant's use and lack of market harm established such fair use in view of the established importance of search engines and the transformative nature of using reduced versions of the images. Since defendant did not remove copyright management information from plaintiff's works, had no reasonable grounds to suspect infringement by its users, and provided a link to such information, there was no DMCA violation. Accordingly, summary judgment was granted to defendant, and denied to plaintiff.