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In copyright law, the traditional safety valves are the techniques that balance the public's interest in open access with the property interest of copyright owners and the pressing legislation to give those techniques credibility of law through digital rights management. Digital rights management techniques were created by the media industry in order to strengthen control over media use. The antithesis to digital rights management is open access (publishing). Open access allows people to publish their knowledge goods right into the public and skip privatization. The safety valves are in place to ensure the flow of intellectual property from private ownership into public view while keeping the interests of both in mind.
The safety valves (or some of them) are:
Fair use – An exception to the copyright laws that allows partial/limited use of protected materials. This allows for artists, students, journalists, writers, illustrators, and others to copy and quote partial amounts of copyrighted works for purpose of commentary, remix, parody, scholarship, or news reports. A common example is citation in scholarly publications that allows for the referencing and building upon copyrighted works.
First-sale doctrine – Allows purchasers of copyrighted materials to distribute them as they see fit. After the first sale of a product, the copyright holder cannot control distribution of that specific instance of the product. However the purchaser cannot reproduce the material, only distribute official copies. For example, if you buy a CD, you then have the right to sell it, but you do not have the right to sell copies of it.
Public domain – The body of intellectual goods that are allowed free access, and aren't subject to copyright (including government publications and other resources). All creative works enter the public domain if the limited term of copyright protection expires. The real safety valve of public domain is the expiration of copyrights. This expiration prevents permanent monopolies on intellectual properties and ensures their eventual flow into the public domain.
Idea–expression divide (Merger Doctrine) – Facts and ideas are not copyrightable, only specific expressions of facts and ideas.