Over the years, we’ve heard a lot of myths regarding how much a work needs to be changed to avoid being labeled as copyright infringement. Some people insist the rule is 10%, while others say it’s 20% or even 30%. You’ll find a plethora of threads on sites like Reddit and Quora asking this very question. While we commend people for trying to stay out of trouble, creators must beware when looking at such arbitrary guidelines.
There is No Set Percentage
While these percentages are pervasive and circulate regularly on the internet, the truth is that there is no hard and fast rule that spells out how much of a work you can copy before it becomes copyright infringement.
The fact of the matter is that any time you use a portion of someone’s art, literature, photos, poems, creative writings, web copy, etc. without permission, you run the risk of being held accountable by the original creator of the work.
Is It Fair Use?
Sometimes we hear the 10% rule being thrown around when someone is trying to determine how much of a work can be copied within the framework of “fair use.” We generally see this in academic settings where students may be pulling from a textbook or other literary work. The advice you may find on the internet is that if you copy 10% or less of a work, it’s “fair use” and does not require permission from the author or creator. Even in this situation, there is still no hard and fast “10% rule” that governs fair use. It does not exist in the U.S. Code.
Fair Use is a defense and is codified in the US Copyright Act. Section 107 calls for consideration of the following four factors in evaluating a question of fair use:
- Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- Nature of the copyrighted work;
- Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
All these factors are considered together. Each claim of Fair Use is based on the facts and determined on a case-by-case basis.
So, How Do You Avoid Infringement?
Steering clear of arbitrary rules and formulas is a good start. They simply do not reflect the law. If an article says to avoid copyright infringement you just need to change every 10th word in your essay or swap out exactly 30% of the content, consider running the other direction. There is no magic number or calculation to use, and even a small taking of someone else’s copyrighted content could cause an infringement situation.
For your own protection and peace of mind, try to make your work and creative expressions as original as possible. When you must borrow from another content creator, seek permission. Of course, when in doubt, contact an intellectual property attorney.
If you have additional questions or you’d like to schedule a discovery session to learn more about copyright protections, call us at (888) 666-0062 or click here to schedule an appointment using our online scheduling tool.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney.