Fair use was in eclipse for decades, with judges, lawyers, legal scholars, and creators unsure of its interpretation and convinced of its unreliability. Since the late 1990s, fair use has returned to the scene, and has become a sturdy tool for a wide range of creators and users. This transformation has been remarkable; we discuss it in detail in Chapter 5, and provide highlights here.
It happened in part because of changing scholarship. A generation of legal scholars has developed arguments for fair use as they have analyzed copyright’s effect on cultural expression. At the same time, cultural studies scholars have showcased the relevance of fair use to their work, which often involves analyzing popular culture. Teachers and scholars are beginning to take up the fair use banner, publicly using their rights and encouraging their students to do the same.
Some propose copyright reform to shrink the monopoly claims of owners. Veteran legal scholar Pamela Samuelson has proposed reconceptualizing copyright law from a blank slate. She imagines a simpler, shorter copyright law, grounded in principles rather than the “obese Frankenstein monster” it has become through stakeholder pressure and endless tinkering. Neil Netanel has proposed a range of tweaks to pull back the extent of copyright protection, such as limiting copyright length and dropping protection against the preparation of derivative work, so that less licensing is needed. Lawrence Lessig also has argued for simplifying and minimizing copyright protection for owners.