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Copyright: Fair Use

Some basic tips and links on copyright law.

Defining Fair Use

Stated simply, the principle of Fair Use, as established in Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act, is an exemption that allows for certain uses of copyrighted materials without seeking permission from, or paying fees to, the copyright owners of those materials. Typically, such uses are of a non-profit and/or educational nature, although the use does not need to be non-profit or educational to be considered fair. Notably, the user who acquires a copy of a work under Fair Use implicitly acknolwedges the existence of the rights of the creator or owner, and therefore accepts limitations upon use of such a copy.  

Fair Use Check Lists

Checklists from the Americal Library Association and Cornell University can be used to help determine whether usage of a copyrighted material falls under fair use. If fair use is determined, users are advised to save the check list in order to demonstrate good faith should the copyright holder ever challenge the use.

If the checklist does not demonstrate fair use or is too ambiguous, please consult a librarian for steps to resolve the situation. In the event that usage does not qualify as fair, be prepared to obtain the copyright holder’s permission, pay licensing fees, or adjust the material or usage of the copyrighted work.  

The Law

§ 107 . Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include— 

(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.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Case Summaries