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Copyright & Fair Use : Fair Use

Learn about copyright and fair use of print and non-materials in face-to-face and online classrooms.

What is Fair Use

Under the “fair use” rule of copyright law, an author may make limited use of another author’s work 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.

  1. What is your purpose in using the material? Are you going to use the material for monetary gain or for education or research purposes?
  2. What is the characteristic nature of work – is it fact or fiction; has it been published or not?
  3. How much of the work are you going to use? Small amount or large? Is it the significant or central part of the work?
  4. 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 Fair Use Evaluator can help you decide if you are using copyrighted materials "fairly" under the U.S. Copyright Law.

Exceptions for Instructors assists in identifying if an intended use meets the requirements set out in the copyright law.

U.S. Copyright Office provides a fact sheet

University of Texas provides a summary of Fair Use.

Guidelines for Best Practice

Guidelines for Best Practice (the following are not legally binding)

"The code identifies eight situations that represents the library community's current consensus about acceptable practices for the fair use of copyrighted materials and how those rights should apply in certain recurrent situations."  Click on Code of Best Practices in Fair Use and Academic and Research Libraries to download the document.

"Created by the International Communication Association.  Helps U.S. communication scholars to interpret the copyright doctrine of fair use."

"A code of best practices that helps educators using media literacy concepts and techniques to interpret the copyright doctrine of fair use."

"A code of best practices designed to help those preparing OpenCourseWare (OCW) to interpret and apply fair use under United States copyright law."

"A code of best practices that helps creators, online providers, copyright holders, and others interested in the making of online video interpret the copyright doctrine of fair use. "

Fair Use Checklists

The following two charts can provide helpful information on deciding if you are using copyrighted material fairly.

Recommended Fair Use Guidelines

Guidelines for Print Materials:

  • Single chapter from a book
  • A single article from a journal issue or newspaper
  • A short story, essay, or poem from an individual work.
  • A chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture from a book, journal, or newspaper.

Guidelines for Distributing Copies

  • Copies made do not substitute for the purchase of 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 the webpage to see if there is information on how to use the work. If guidelines exist - use them!
  • Always credit the source of your information
  • If you are using material from the Internet on your webpage ask permission or link to the site.
  • If you gather and receive permission to use the material keep a copy of your request for permission and their 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.

What is considered a small portion?

  • 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 or cell entries, whichever is less.

The following guidelines allow you to use multimedia without permission of lawfully acquired copyrighted works.

  • You may incorporate portions of copyrighted works when creating your own multimedia projects for educational or instructional (not commercial) purposes.
    • Students may incorporate "portions" of copyrighted materials for a project in a specific course.
    • Students may display their own projects, use them in their portfolio, use the project for a job interview or as supporting materials in an application for school.
    • 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 Images

Fair Use Guidelines For Digital Images provides useful information for assessing fair use of digital images.

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media

The Center for Social Media in the School of Communication at American University, the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property in American University Washington College of Law, and the Media Education Lab of Temple University are conducting a project 2007-2009 to clarify fair use in media education, with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. This project will help media literacy educators understand their rights under the doctrine of fair use in order to help them more effectively use media as an essential part of their teaching.