By Chike Eze
The Copyright Act balances granting exclusive rights to copyright owners on the one hand, and limiting those rights through several exceptions, including “fair use,” on the other. A creator of an unauthorized derivative work may escape a copyright infringement claim by successfully asserting a defense of “fair use.” However, the question is whether the creator may also claim copyright protection for the unauthorized derivative work.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals answered this question in the affirmative. In Keeling v. Hars, the Second Circuit Court interpreted Section 103 of the Copyright Act to determine whether an unauthorized work, within the bounds of fair use, may itself be protected by copyright. The Keeling court held that copyright law provides that an unauthorized but lawful “fair use work may itself merit copyright protection.”