What is Fair Use?
The copyright statute (17 U.S.C.) provides a number of limitations on the exclusive rights granted a copyright holder. The “Fair Use doctrine” is a relatively brief but extremely important limitation that empowers users to copy a portion or, in some cases, all of a work without asking for permission from the content owner. The decision-making process involves your objective consideration of each of the four factors stipulated in § 107 to assess the impact of your use on the rights of the copyright holder. To that end, forms and tools included on this website will assist you in weighing these factors and making a decision about whether your use is a fair use. A definition of “fair use”, as defined in the statute, is a good starting point.
§ 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The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.”
Fair Use Evaluator
To help you assess whether your proposed use of copyrighted material is a fair use, complete the online form provided by the Fair Use Evaluator tool. Print out and keep a copy of this time-stamped record, in the event you are asked by a copyright owner or a court of law how you arrived at your decision. Conducting this evaluation after you’ve used the content is not recommended.
Fair Use Exceptions for Instructors (for performance and display of copyrighted material in traditional, distance, or blended educational models)
Best Practice Guides to Fair Use
Many organizations have written guidelines or best practices to help define fair use for specific audiences or types of content. These best practices provide an important framework for educators, in particular, in the event your decision supporting fair use is questioned by a court of law. American University’s Center for Media & Social Impact has compiled these documents (see CMSI’s Best Practices), or you may link to the document in the list below that is most applicable to your current needs). Topics are bolded for easier identification.
- American Musicological Society’s Best Practices in the Fair Use of Copyrighted Materials in Music Scholarship
- American Society of Media Photographers’ Best Practices for Posting Images and Video
- Association of Research Libraries’ Code of Best Practices in Fair Use
- Association of Research Libraries Report: Fair Use Challenges in Academic and Research Libraries
- Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education
- Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video
- Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Open CourseWare
- Code of Best Practices in Fair Use of Orphan Works for Libraries & Archives
- Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry
- Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Scholarly Research in Communication
- Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts
- Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use
- Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Fair Use Principles for User Generated Video Content
- Poetry Foundation’s Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry
- Set of Principles in Fair Use for Journalism
- Society of American Archivists Statement of Best Practices on Orphan Works
- Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ State of Best Practices in Fair Use in Teaching for Film and Media Educators
- Visual Resources Association Statement of the Fair Use of Images for Teaching, Research, and Study