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Fair Use Resources

Fair Use Exception

Fair Use is one of the most important exceptions to copyright law, especially for students and educators. Under the Fair Use rule of copyright law, someone may use part of another author’s work without asking permission. However, “fair use” is not defined by statute and is therefore wide open to interpretation. Fair use is typically invoked for:

  • Criticism or commentary
  • News reporting
  • Teaching
  • Scholarship and research
  • Allowing others' individual creativity to flourish

In using part of someone else's work, invoking fair use becomes a good-faith assertion on your part. How much of someone else's work is really only "fair" when a judge says it is in a legal decision.  You don't want to be sued for infringement just to find out your use was legally fair, so be careful how you use others' work. Keep in mind that "educational use" alone does not make use of a work fair. Analyze how you are going use a particular work against the following four factors of fair use.  Here is what the law says:

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.

From 17 U.S. Code § 107

Recommended Guidelines

Guidelines are not hard rules, they just help you decide how you might use material without permission. 

Guidelines for Distributing Photocopies

  • Making digital or photocopies does not substitute for buying books or journals
  • Provide a copyright notice on the first page of the material copied. The American Library Association recommends using "Notice: This material is subject to the copyright law of the United States."
  • Provide only one copy per student which becomes the property of the student.
  • Copying the works for subsequent semesters requires copyright permission.
  • Do not charge the students beyond the cost of making the photocopy.

Guidelines for Using Materials Found on the Internet

  • Look on a Web page to see if it includes permission information. if so, follow them carefully!
  • Always credit the source of your information (by URL, date)
  • Rather than copy material from an Internet site, link to the site--better yet, ask permission (and if you receive permission to use the material keep a hard copy of your request and the response)

Guidelines for Using Multi-Media

Multimedia works are created by combining copyrighted media elements such as motion media, music, other sounds, graphics, and text. It is recommended that you use only small portions of other people's works.

  • You may incorporate portions of copyrighted works when creating your own multimedia projects for educational or instructional (not commercial) purposes but your work cannot be shown or disseminated outside of class
    • Students may incorporate "portions" of copyrighted materials for a project in a specific course
    • Students may display their own projects, use them in a portfolio, use them for a job interview or as supporting materials in an application
    • Faculty may use their projects for class assignments, curriculum materials, remote instruction, for conferences, presentations, or workshops, or for their professional portfolio
  • Give attribution to the original source of all copyrighted material used
  • Place a copyright notice on the opening screen of the multimedia program and accompanying print material that "certain materials are included under fair use exemption of the U.S. Copyright Law...and are restricted from further use."
  • Fair use of the copyrighted materials expires at the end of two years. To use the project again you need to obtain permission.

Guidelines for what is considered a small portion (these amounts are not rules for determining fair use)

  • Motion media: Up to 10% or three minutes, whichever is less.
  • Text: Up to 10% or 1,000 words, whichever is less (the limits on poetry are more restrictive)
  • Music: Up to 10% of an individual copyrighted musical composition, or up to 10% of a copyrighted musical composition embodied on a sound recording. However, no more than 30 seconds may be used without gaining permission from the copyright owner or licensing collective.
  • Illustrations and photos: Under the guidelines, "a photograph or illustration may be used in its entirety, but no more than five images by one artist or photographer may be incorporated into any one multimedia program. From a published collective work, not more than 10% or 15 images, whichever is less, may be used."
  • Numerical Data Sets: Up to 10% or 2,5000 fields of cell entries, whichever is less.