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Copyright & Author Rights: Fair Use

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is an exception to copyright law that allows you to use copyrighted materials under specific conditions. When deciding whether your use is fair, there are four factors listed below that must all be considered.

Fair use evaluations are not definitive. Rather, you are determining whether your use is more or less likely to be fair. Be aware that if the work is licensed, you must follow the terms of that license.

1. Purpose and character of the use

  • If your use is for the purposes of education, news reporting, criticism, or commentary, your use is more likely to be fair.
  • Commercial uses are less likely to be fair.

2. Nature of the copyrighted work

  • More creative works have greater copyright protection than factual ones. For example, a novel is more creative and therefore more protected than a textbook or a dataset.
  • Unpublished works also receive greater copyright protection.

3. Amount and substantiality of the work used

  • If you use a small portion of the work rather than the whole thing, it is more likely to be fair use.
  • There is no definitive answer as to how much could be considered small, but using 10-15% of the original is a good guideline.
  • Using more than is necessary or using a portion that is central to the entire work is less likely to be fair.

4. Effect of the use on the potential market of the work

  • If your intended use would substitute for a sale the copyright owner would otherwise make, your use is less likely to be fair.
  • This potentially includes making many copies, using a work repeatedly over a long period of time, or distributing the work widely, like posting it on the internet.

Ways to Make Fair Use More Likely

  • Use a small portion of the work
  • Don't post the work to the internet
  • Limit the amount of time you are using the copy
  • Use the work in a transformative way that creates new meaning or purpose

Fair Use Resources

Information here is intended as a guideline and should not be considered professional legal advice.