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Copyright & Fair Use: Fair Use

Information on Copyright and Fair Use in the Classroom

Fair Use

Faculty must ensure that use of materials for their courses complies with copyright and fair use. Here is a Fair Use Checklist from the American Library Association to assist you in making that determination.

Fair Use
The provision of "Fair Use" is described in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law. Under certain circumstances, Fair Use permits the reproduction of copyrighted materials without requiring permission from the copyright holder.

The U.S. Copyright Office factsheet on Fair Use, FL-102, explains that "Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research." Section 107 also outlines four (4) factors to be considered when determining whether or not a particular use is "fair". 

The Four Factors are:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of 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
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

The U.S. Copyright Office, itself, admits in FL-102 that the determination of Fair Use can be challenging. "The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission....The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material....When it's impractical to obtain permission, use of copyrighted material should be avoided unless the doctrine of fair use would clearly apply to the situation." 1

U. S. Copyright Office. (2010). Fair Use. Retrieved from 

To determine if your use applies to Fair Use, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the purpose of the use? Educational purposes and single copies for non-profit or personal use are more likely fair use. Uses for commercial purposes would require permission.
  2. What is the nature of the material? Factual, scientific information, or historical data favor fair use. Creative fiction, unpublished works, music, novels, films, plays would most likely require permission.
  3. How much of the work will be used? If the amount is a small proportion of the work, it is more likely to be considered a fair use. A substantial portion or central portion of the work would require permission.
  4. What is the effect of the use of the copied materials on the market of the original work? If the use would deny the owner of the copyright his/her due, then the use would not be deemed a fair use. If the user owns or has purchased the original work and this is one of few copies made which does not affect the potential market for the original, this would be an application of fair use.

Other Fair Use resources: 

  • NOTE: It is recommended that you complete a Fair Use checklist and print a copy to serve as a record of your rationale in the event that your Fair Use decision is challenged by the copyright holder.