Skip to main content

Copyright Resources

What is Fair Use?

Fair Use is a limitation on a copyright holder's exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, make derivative works, and perform or display their work. It is an interpretation of one's use of copyrighted material, where the benefits of use outweigh the exclusive rights of the copyright holder.

Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright code (Fair Use) provides four parameters, or factors, for interpreting the use of copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder as legal:

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

All of these factors are considered together when determining the use of copyrighted material as fair. Thus, an educational purpose alone does not necessarily make a use fair, nor does a commercial purpose necessarily make it unfair. 

Even using the Four Factors as a guide, the distinction between a fair use and infringing use of copyrighted material is not always clear. Only a court can ultimately determine if a use is fair, and this can only happen if a case is litigated. In other words, Fair Use is a defense, not a right.

Nonetheless, the copyright code, legal precedents & fair use educational materials can provide us considerable guidance in making fair use evaluations and asserting Fair Use. 

Fair Use Tools

a Fair(y) Use Tale

Having a little fun with Fair Use, to explain Fair Use. 

A Fair(y) Use Tale by Eric Faden. Produced by the Media Education Foundation.

Fair Use Resources