The term “fair use” designates the acceptable use or reproduction of copyrighted materials without obtaining specific permission from the holder(s) of the copyright. Fair use is generally granted for the purposes of comment, criticism, research, teaching, and scholarship. It is important to note that this does not imply an absolute exemption from copyright law for scholars and educators. For each intended use of a copyrighted material, it is important to determine whether or not fair use applies. This can sometimes be confusing because clear boundaries between what is and is not fair use do not exist.
The best way to determine the likelihood that your intended use of a material is fair is to use the four factors outlined in section 107 of U.S. copyright law as guidelines for review. In summary, the four factors address issues pertaining to:
- The Purpose of use;
- The Nature of the work to be used;
- The Amount of the work to be used; and
- The Effect of using the work.
View our four factor analysis for further explanation. The Fair Use Checklist is also a helpful tool that can be utilized in determining the acceptable nature of your intended use of copyrighted works.
What the government says:
Section 107 of Title 17 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 sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.