In limited circumstances, a doctrine known as “fair use” permits users (such as teachers and authors) to use another person’s copyrighted work without first obtaining the copyright holder’s permission. The animating rationale of the fair use doctrine is to promote public purposes such as commentary, criticism, scholarship, and research.
The Copyright Act instructs courts to weigh the following four factors if a user asserts a fair use defense: i. the purpose and character of the use, with non-commercial use more likely to be fair; ii. the nature of the copyrighted work; iii. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole; and iv. the effect of the use on the potential market for the copyrighted work. 17 U.S.C. § 107.
When you are trying to determine if a use is fair, you should weigh each of these factors, for example, balancing your justification for using the material against the potential effect on the original work’s market. However, only a court can definitively determine if any particular use is a fair use.
Below you will find a few examples of educational use of copyrighted materials that are intended to help educators better understand how to make fair use determinations. You may also wish to consult the useful Fair Use Evaluator.
The information presented in this guide is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Every fair use claim depends on the specific context of the intended use. While the focus of this guide is fair use, please note that the guide also covers other important exceptions to copyright permitting faculty members to use third-party materials, including the classroom use exception and the category of materials in the public domain.
Journal articles for personal
Fair use: Yes. This is a classic example of personal fair use so long as the professor uses the article for her personal files and reference.