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Copyright: Fair Use

An overview of copyright and how it affects education and research.

Fair Use Tools

Check out these online tools and resources that can help you in making a fair use decision.

Fair Use Basics

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is legal protection given to users that allows them to use copyrighted works in certain situations without asking for permission first. Fair use can be used for (but is not limited to) criticism, news reporting, parodies, teaching, scholarship, and research. Watch this video on fair use for more help.

Examples of fair us in the classroom and research:

  1. Providing copies of articles for students to discuss
  2. Watching scenes from a popular movie to discuss gender roles
  3. Quoting other articles in your own research paper
  4. Text mining books to look for trends in word usage
  5. Taking pieces of various images, books, and other works to make a collage that represents a new artwork
  6. Including a small image of a picture an author is critiquing

Deciding Fair Use

Just because fair use can protect people in these types of uses doesn't mean that all such uses are protected, however. Instead, fair use must be applied on a case-by-case basis using what are called the four factors:

Factors in favor of or against fair use
Factors In favor of fair use Against fair use
Purpose/character of the use
  • Not for profit
  • Educational
  • Scholarship/research
  • Criticism/parody
  • Transformational
  • For profit
Nature of the work
  • Fact-based
  • Published
  • Creative
  • Unpublished
Amount of work used
  • Just what is needed for your purpose
  • Using more than you need
  • Using the "heart of the work"
Market effect on work
  • Your use does not replace the market for the work
  • Your use could replace the market for the work

What do we mean by transformative?

Transformative has really grown as a concept in fair use in the past few decades. The more transformational a use of a copyrighted work is, the more likely courts have been to rule that it meets fair use, even if the other factors weigh against fair use.

No one clear definition of transformative exists, but generally, it's the idea that someone brings new meaning to a work or uses it in a different way than the original creator made it for. For instance, 2 Live Rap Crew's parody of Roy Orbison's song Pretty Woman was found by the U.S. Supreme Court to be transformative because it parodied the original song and therefore a fair use.

What is not transformative is using a work in way that it was originally meant for. This means that using a biology textbook to teach students about the basics of biology is likely not going to be considered transformative.