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Fair Use

The doctrine of fair use included in section 107 of the copyright law provides for limited use of copyrighted works for educational and research purposes without obtaining permission from the work’s owner for the purpose of criticism, comment, news, reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.

Fair use is a set of broad guidelines rather than explicit rules.

The final determination depends on a balance, and does not rely solely on any one factor. The courts can consider these four factors flexibly, along with additional factors. The burden of proving fair use falls on the user of the copyrighted material.

In determining whether any given “use” is “fair” the four non-exclusive factors must be considered:

1) The purpose and character of the work (is the use for a commercial nature or is it for nonprofit educational purposes?)
2) The nature of the copyrighted work (Is it creative or informative?)
3) The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole (How much are your using and who vital is that portion to the whole?)
4) The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. (Does the use have an negative affect the copyright holder’s ability to market or otherwise further profit from the work?)

How to determine if a use is 'fair'

There are several tools available that assist with determining how 'fair' a use may be.

Best Practice Codes

The Code of Best Practices developed by the Center for Media & Social Impact at American University in partnership with major associations provide professionals, educators, artists, libraries and the public with a set of principles addressing best practices in the fair use of copyrighted materials. They describe how fair use can be invoked and implemented when using copyrighted materials in scholarship, teaching, museums, archives, and in the creation of creative works.

Consult the best practice code specific for your discipline. *See Copyright Guide for list of codes or visit the Center's website.


Measuring Research Impact


Copyright Resources


Library Contact

Julia Rodriguez
Scholarly Communications Librarian

Related Guides:

Copyright Resource for Faculty


Created by Name / Updated on November 8, 2018 by Name

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