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Copyright Tips

A self-service guide to analyzing copyright questions

Fair use is an exemption to the rights of copyright holders. Without it, we would not be able to comment, critique, or educate with copyrighted materials.

The fair use of a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

In determining whether the use is a fair use, four factors need to be considered:

  1. The purpose and character of your use of the copyrighted material
    1. Commercial vs. non-profit, criticism, news reporting, etc.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
    1. Fiction vs. nonfiction, published vs. unpublished, highly creative, etc.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as whole
    1. Small amount, entire work, image resolution, the “heart” of the work can all be considered
  4. The effect of the use on the potential market value of the copyrighted work
    1. No effect, avoiding a purchase of the original work, owned, permission available

From the U.S. Copyright Office, Copyright Law of the United States, Chapter One, Section 107, “Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use

The four factors are not a strict list of rules. 
The factors are vague on purpose and they are interpreted on a case by case basis. One or two factors can also weigh more heavily than others, depending on the context. 

These four factors work in balance with each other. For example, a person may be using copyrighted material for a commercial use (rather than a non-profit or educational purpose) but is utilizing a published copyrighted work, in a small amount, and their use will have no effect on the copyright holder's market value. This use could be considered a fair use. 

Similarly, a non-profit educational organization could screen parts of a copyrighted film to a small group of students but charge a ticket price. This use would likely not be considered a fair use, even though the organization is a non-profit educational institution and they are not showing the whole film.   

an illustration of a scale

Fair Use FAQs

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