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Copyright and Fair Use

An overview of copyright, focusing on re-using other people's works in academic contexts

Fair Use: It's Your Right!

decorative image that says "fair use?"Fair use is part of copyright law and allows you to use copyrighted materials without permission under certain circumstances.  Fair use is particularly solicitous of non-profit, academic uses. Before relying on fair use, you must consider each of the four factors, and how they weigh for or against your use.  Use this guide and the fair use worksheet to make your own good faith determination.  If you determine your use would likely not be fair use, you can still ask the copyright holder for permission.

Is Your Use Fair?

Congress listed four factors in the fair use exception to copyright (read the law here).  These are intended to be flexible, so to many people they seem uncomfortably vague.  Employees of nonprofit, educational institutions have a reduced exposure to statutory damages if they can prove that they made a good faith fair use determination. In recent fair use cases, judges have placed the most emphasis on the first and third factors, essentially boiling the factors down to two questions:

1. Did the use “transform” the material taken from the copyrighted work by using it for a broadly beneficial purpose different from that of the original, or did it just repeat the work for the same intent and value as the original, in effect substituting for it? (note: classroom copies are still explicitly permitted.  In all cases, use only the amount needed for teaching purposes. See Copyright in the Classroom for more information).

2. Was the material taken appropriate in kind and amount, considering the nature of the copyrighted work and of the use?

Take a look at the Fair Use Worksheet for a more detailed analysis of each of the four factors.

 

Fair Use Best Practices

The following documents have been created by experts in these communities, usually with legal counsel, but they do not have the force of law.

Sample Fair Use Statement

When claiming fair use of copyrighted materials, it's a good idea to include a fair use statement to demonstrate you're operating in good faith. For example:

This document contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I have determined this to be "fair use" of the copyrighted material as referenced and provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use any copyrighted material from this document for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain express permission from the copyright owner.

Be sure to cite your source when claiming fair use. For a more nuanced fair use statement, provide specifics about how the copyrighted material is being used.

 

More Fair Use Resources

There's a lot more to know about fair use!  Use the resources below to educate yourself further.

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