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Fair Use

Fair Use Doctrine

Fair use is a legal principle that defines the limitations on the exclusive rights of copyright holders. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide guidance on the application of fair use principles by educators, scholars and students who use portions of copyrighted works under fair use rather than by seeking authorization for non-commercial educational uses. These guidelines apply only to fair use in the context of copyright and to no other rights.

There is no simple test to determine what is fair use. Section 107 of the Copyright Act sets forth the four fair use factors that should be considered in each instance, based on particular facts of a given case, to determine whether a use is a "fair use" consider:

  • The purpose and character of use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  • The nature of the copyrighted work.
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

While only the courts can authoritatively determine whether a particular use is fair use, these guidelines represent conditions under which fair use should generally apply. Uses that exceed these guidelines may or may not be fair use. The more one exceeds these guidelines, the greater the risk that fair use does not apply.

Guidelines for specific areas can be found under Uses and Applications.

Fair Use Resources

University of Wisconsin System Copyright Information is available from the Office of the General Counsel

Fair Use Evaluator- ALA Office for Information Technology Policy. This interactive site helps document decisions to use material in the classroom

Fair Use of Copyrighted Materials - From the University of Texas System

The following Illustrative Scenarios provided by CETUS, the Consortium for Educational Technology in University Systems, are intended to emphasize the growing range and escalating complexity of copyright and fair-use issues

Fair Use at the University - A set of resources from Columbia University Libraries' Copyright Advisory Office. This compact collection of resources includes a Fair Use Checklist useful in documenting and evaluating classroom use of material under copyright