Golden Gate University Law Review


This case summary details the decision in McGucken v. Pub Ocean Ltd., 42 F.4th 1149 (9th Cir. 2022), in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit analyzed the proper application of the fair use doctrine under the U.S. Copyright Act. The Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et. seq. (1976)) seeks to further cultural advancements by protecting the exclusive rights of creators. The fair use doctrine protects the interests of those who build upon the work of creators when they use portions of previously copyrighted works. In McGucken, the Ninth Circuit reversed the sua sponte decision by U.S. District Court for the Central District of California that had favored Pub Ocean’s use of previously copyrighted photographs. Courts typically consider four factors when analyzing fair use claims: (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit’s decision in McGucken illustrates how the analysis relative to transformativeness under the first factor can significantly influence a court’s assessment of the other three factors and potentially lead to unpredictable results