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Copyright Resources: Fair Use

Overview: Copyright Law and Fair Use

The Copyright Act of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) grants to copyright owners the right to control an intellectual or artistic creation, to prohibit others from using the work in specific ways without permission, and to profit from the sale and performance of the work. Under the current statute, copyright protection extends to cover the written word, sound recordings, visual images (such as photographs, graphics and illustrations), audiovisual works (such as motion pictures and other movies or clips), as well as musical, dramatic, and choreographic works. While the internet and digital technologies make it easier to find, obtain, and share information, that information is still protected by copyright law. Copyright principles remain the same regardless of format.

Fair use exceptions are often applied for use of works for teaching and research purposes. Before deciding if the fair use exception can be applied it must first be determined if the material in question is subject to copyright protection, if there is a license or contract governing its use, and if there are any special exceptions to copyright law allowing its use. If the material is found to be protected by copyright law and ungoverned by license or contract, the four factor analysis can be applied. The four factor analysis will result in either a fair use exception or the need to request permission from the copyright owner.

Continue reading for more detailed information at Policy Section III. Copyright Law and Fair Use.

Four Factors of Fair Use

1. The purpose and character of the use

2. The nature of the work to be used

3. The amount or significance of portion used

4. The effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the work

Best Practices


Fair Use Tools

Public Domain Evaluators

The Law

Transformative Use

When deciding if a use if transformative, ask the following questions:

  • Are you creating new meaning, making a new point, or adding value?
  • Does the incorporated material help make that new point?
  • Have you used no more than needed for that point?

If the use is not transformative (for example, copies of a chapter to read), think about the amount of the work used and the impact on the market.  If your use is just about avoiding a purchase for students, it will not qualify for fair use.  It may be fair use if it is just a very small amount of a work used to make a point that doesn't warrant students purchaing the entire work. Don't forget the other factors must also be considered.

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