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Library Support for Faculty: Fair Use

Available support for faculty

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a part of the US Copyright Law (U.S.C. 17 §107) that sets forth limitations on the exclusive rights of copyright holders.

This means that under certain circumstances you do not have to seek permission or pay a fee to use copyright materials.

There are four factors to be considered when determining whether a particular use is fair or not.

A fair use evaluation must be actively conducted by weighing the four fair use factors for each individual case.

Fair Use Tips

  • Always conduct a fair use analysis by examining all four of the factors
  • Educational use does not automatically make a use fair
  • Use the smallest possible portion of the work
  • Copies must be made from legally owned originals
  • Materials secured through Interlibrary Loan are borrowed, not owned
  • A fair use cannot be claimed for a work which is used for more than one semester of the same course
  • In the case of electronic postings, remove access as soon as the semester concludes

How do I know if a use is fair?

Determining fair use requires a case-by-case assessment of each circumstance giving careful consideration to all four of the fair use factors.

Use this Fair Use Checklist to help evaluate each use.

The Four Fair Use Factors

The purpose and character of the use

  • Is the use for education purposes or other noncommerical use?
  • Is the use of a transformative nature?

 These types of uses are favored under fair use.  Uses of a commercial nature usually would not be considered fair.

The nature of the work.

  • Is it primarily factual or of a creative nature, such as a work of fiction?
  • Is it a published work? 

 It is easier to show fair use with factual works than with creative works. Use of unpublished works is unlikely to be seen as fair.

The amount and substantiality of the portion being used.

  • How much of the work, in relation to the whole, is being used?
  • Is the portion being used considered the key portion or heart of the work?

 The less used the better under fair use.  Usage of key or main concept portions is often declared unfair use.

The effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the work.

  • Does the use deprive the copyright owner of income or undermine a new or potential market for the copyrighted work?   

 Depriving a copyright holder of income usually weighs against a finding of fair use.

We're here to help!

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Beth Miller
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Washington & Jefferson College
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