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Copyright Best Practices

Fair Use Explained

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 called "the fair use exception."

The fair use exception permits the reproduction of a small portion of a copyrighted work without the copyright owner's permission, but only under very limited circumstances. 

The purpose is to allow students, scholars, and critics the right to reference a copyrighted work in their own scholarship, teaching, and critiques.

Watch the U.S. Copyright Office Explain Fair Use

Follow the 4 Fair Use Factors

The four factors of Fair Use can help you determine if and when it is ok to copy content for teaching and learning and in the classroom and in the campus library. Those four factors are:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether it is of a commercial nature or for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work
  3. the amount of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

No one factor is more important than the other and each use must meet all 4 factors. So the educational use, alone, does not qualify something as allowed. And the amount of a work used does not qualify something as allowed. Fair Use is a balance of all four factors. 

There's no one right answer as to what constitutes a "fair use" of a particular copyrighted work. The answer varies from situation to situation.

A good point to consider is this: Have you made a "good faith" effort to comply with the "fair use" clause of U.S. Copyright Law?

Fair Use Example

The difference between “fair use” and “infringement” of a copyright-protected work is not easy to determine. The burden of establishing a “fair use” is on the user and requires a very circumstance-specific analysis of the intended use or reuse of a work. Here are three examples that illustrate this challenge:

 Weight of Evidence Favors
Fair Use

 Gray Area – Opinions May Vary

 Weight of Evidence Does Not  Favor Fair Use

 Scanning three pages of a 120 page book and posting it to Canvas for one semester.

Scanning seven pages of a 120 page book and posting it to Canvas for one semester.

Scanning an entire book and posting it to Canvas.

 If the scanned pages are not the “core” of the work in question, a favorable argument for “fair use” exists.

The amount exceeds established standards for acceptable amounts by one page (i.e. greater than 5%). However, courts are not bound by established standards and the Copyright Act contains no such standards. Opinions will vary.

Scanning an entire book clearly weighs against a finding of “fair use” as the entire work is used.