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Copyright and Fair Use

Learn the basics of copyright law, especially as it is applied to videos, images, and published documents in a university setting.

Fair Use

The Copyright Act gives the owner of a copyright the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute their work. One exception to this exclusive right is found in section 107 of the Copyright law, and is called "the fair use exception." 

The fair use exception permits the reproduction of a portion of a copyrighted work without the copyright owner's permission, under certain circumstances. Licenses apply before application of Fair Use or Educational Use.

This is a vitally important exception for education, as it enables students, scholars, and critics to use and reference copyrighted works in their own scholarship, teaching, and critiques. 

How to Apply Fair Use

Under the “fair use” rule of copyright law, an author may make limited use of another author’s work for commentary and criticism without asking permission. However, “fair use” is open to interpretation. Fair use is intended to support teaching, research, and scholarship, but educational purpose alone does not make every use of a work fair. It is always important to analyze how you are going use a particular work against the following Four Factors of Fair Use.

Factor One: Purpose & Character

  • What is your purpose in using the material? Are you going to use the material for monetary gain or for education or research purposes?

Factor Two: Nature of the Work

  • What is the characteristic nature of work – is it fact or fiction; has it been published or not?

Factor Three: Amount

  • How much of the work are you going to use? Small amount or large? Is it the significant or central part of the work?

Factor Four: Effect

  • How will your use of the work effect the author’s or the publisher’s ability to sell the material? If your purpose is for research or education, your effect on the market value may be difficult to prove. However, if your purpose is commercial gain, then you are not following fair use.

The four factors are not meant to be exclusive and must be examined together. The statute does not indicate how much weight is to be accorded each factor, therefore, it is advisable to treat the four factors equally.

Educational Exemptions

Fair Use Tools

Need help determining whether your desired use is eligible for educational or fair use exceptions to copyright law? Use these tools to help you analyze your use and learn more about legal precedent in fair use cases.