Skip to Main Content

Copyright and Fair Use

This guide provides resources and information about copyright and fair use.

What Is Fair Use?

As found in Chapter 1, Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law, the fair use doctrine allows for the permitted use of a copyrighted work, under specific circumstances, without the copyright owner's permission, for reasonable and limited use.

The purpose of the use must be for "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research." That said, fair use does not automatically protect "educational uses" of copyrighted materials. Users must undertake a fair use analysis to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a use falls within fair use. The law holds individuals responsible for evaluating their own uses of copyrighted works. 

Four Factors of Fair Use

There are four factors that are used to determine whether a use qualifies as fair use. All four factors must be considered.   

1. The purpose and character of the use  

Why are you using the work? Is the intended use educational or commercial?   

2. The nature of the copyrighted work

Is the material factual or creative? Is it published or unpublished? 

3. The amount of the work to be used

Do you intend to use a limited portion of the work, or a large or entire portion? In general, using a smaller portion of a work is more supportive of fair use. Another consideration is whether the amount of work used constitutes the “heart,” or most important or primary part, of the work.

4. The effect on the market for the work

Does your use deprive the copyright holder of potential revenue? Are you making a few or many copies? Is access restricted to a specific course or being made public? Is the work widely available? Is there an existing licensing mechanism for the contemplated use?  

Only when the balance of the factors weighs in favor of fair use should a work be used without permission. When conducting a fair use assessment, if the balance does not weigh in favor of fair use, you must seek permission to use the copyrighted material. The fair use assessment page can provide you with additional information and tools for conducting assessments.


The information contained within this guide is for informational and instructional purposes only. It is not legal advice.

Request Assistance

Copyright Librarian

Profile Photo
Colby Cilento
Milner Library