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Fair Use Information and Resources

The concept of Fair Use was developed out of the court's concern for protecting the public's right to use excerpts of works in certain limited circumstances. It was recognized at some point that not all copying is necessarily bad and in the case of critiquing works, for example, it's necessary. This doctrine limits exclusive rights and offers some flexibility to copy portions of protected works for purposes that include teaching, news reporting, research, criticism, comment, and scholarship.

There are 4 factors to consider in judging cases of fair use:

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

All four factors should be used in determining whether use is fair; meeting just one of the criteria is not sufficient. If in doubt, the best course of action is always to determine the copyright holder and seek permission for the intended use.

Recognize, too, that what you read at the following websites is based at some level on someone's interpretation of the doctrine. With concerns or questions, a lawyer is best suited to provide advice. Looking at court cases and scenarios is often helpful in putting situations in the proper perspective. Refer to the "Scenarios" section below to see how various fair use cases have been interpreted.

If you're looking for free resources to use (without seeking permission of the creator) with licensing that is spelled out in an unambiguous way, check out the Creative Commons website (see links below.) This site/service allows people to make their work available to others, at the same time allowing the creators to clearly define through a variety of licensing options to what extent others may use and even alter their original works.


Resources on Copyright and Fair Use for Teachers

Sorting Out Fair Use Factors

Fair Use Cases and Scenarios

Creative Commons Information (

  • About Creative Commons - learn about this initiative; see also their 3-minute video Wanna Work Together?
  • License Types - before using a work with a Creative Commons license, understand the type of license that the creator has applied to it
  • Search using Creative Commons-enabled searches at Google, Yahoo!, Flickr, BlipTV, OWL music search, and SpinXpress (Enter your search term(s), press Go, then click the tab to apply the various search sites) Using this site limits your search results to those resources whose authors have applied Creative Commons licensing to their original works (pictures, music, video, text, etc.)