Skip to Main Content

Copyright & Fair Use: Fair Use

This guide provides information concerning copyright in the academic setting.

What is Fair Use?

What is Fair Use?

The Fair Use Doctrine, U. S. Code, Title 17, Section 107 and 108, provides for limited use of copyrighted materials for educational and research purpose without obtaining permission from a works’ owner. Although fair use was not mentioned in previous copyright law, the doctrine has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years. Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. The purpose and character of the use. Generally educational, non-profit personal use is fair use. Commercial use is not.

  2. The nature of the copyrighted work. Generally factual and/or non-fiction published work is fair use. Works that are creative/fiction or unpublished are not fair use.

  3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. Small portions of a copyright work is fair use but this small portion cannot be the “heart” of the work.

  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. Copying a work in lieu of purchasing or licensing is not covered by fair use.

The distinction between “fair use” and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

Faculty guidelines for fair use duplicating

  1. The number of copies cannot exceed the number of students in the class.
  2. The amount of the materials copied must be no more than the set proportion of the original work.
  3. The number of times the copies may be used in any one class must be limited.
  4. All duplicated work must include a copyright notice.
  5. Faculty are prohibited from :
    • making copies to create, replace or serve as a substitute for anthologies, compilations, or collected works;
    • making copies of one-time use materials, i.e. workbooks
    • repeated copying of the same material from term to term; and
    • charging students anything beyond the actual cost of the copies.


  • Everything on the web is publicly available, so it's all public doman and I can reuse it.
  • All educational uses are Fair Use.
  • It's okay to make copies if I don't sell them, or as long as I'm not making a profit.
  • All I have to do is give attribution and I can use the material I want.
  • I'm putting the information up on my password protected web page/blog/online course.  Since it won't be publicly available, it's not a violation of copyright.

Individually, none of these factors justify fair use. A few uses of copyrighted material are generally okay, but often it's more complicated than you might imagine.WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK FOR PERMISSION.