A Copyright Hangover: Political Fair Use Revisited, Again

Political primary season is upon us and, just like a bad hangover, one particular political speech question just keeps creating headaches. To what extent is the unauthorized use of copyrighted material in political campaign advertisements protected by the fair use doctrine? Can political ads borrow a clip from a presidential debate? From a televised sporting event? How about a photograph created by an opponent’s campaign?

We previously reported on copyright dustups over the “Miracle On Ice” ads by former U.S. Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, and attack ads against Canadian Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff. In both of these instances, political campaigns ads used copyrighted material from major news organizations. In each case, the news organizations made some noise about copyright infringement and then backed down before things got litigious.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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