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Copyright Resources: Fair Use - How to Apply It

A guide to provide clear and concise information on copyright law and fair use.

Tools to Evaluate Fair Use

Fair Use Evaluator:

  • Helps to determine if the work you want to use falls under Fair Use
  • Gives you a way collect, organize and archive the information used to make a Fair Use assessment
  • Provides a time-stamped PDF document that can be used if a Copyright holder requests that you provide your Fair Use assessment

Created by the American Library Association (ALA), Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) under a Creative Commons license 

 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA  

Framework of Fair Use

Framework for Fair Use:

  • A valuable resource in making a fair use assessment
  • Can be applied to any Copyright problem
  • Created by Kevin Smith, Dean of Libraries, University of Kansas; Lisa Macklin, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University;and Anne Gilliland, University Libraries, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- all are experts in the field of Copyright (used with their permission)

Fair Use in a Nutshell

The Fair Use Doctrine is part of the Copyright Law that allows for the legal use of Copyrighted materials without getting permission from the Copyright holder.  Purposes of Fair Use are:

  • Criticism
  • Comment
  • News Reporting
  • Teaching
  • Scholarship
  • Research

Fair Use is always open for interpretation.  In order to assess if the work in question meets the criteria, use the Four Factors of Fair Use:

  • Purpose and character of the use
    • Is such use commercial in nature or for nonprofit educational purposes
  • Nature of copyrighted work:
    • The degree to which the work that was used relates to the copyright's purpose of encouraging creative expression.
  • Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Asking for Permission

After working through the four factors of Fair Use and you determine that permission is needed, here are the steps to asking for permission.  First, you must identify who owns the rights to the work -- this can be complicated especially if the Copyright has changed hands.  

Once rights holder is identified, follow the following best practices to ensure you do not violate Copyright Law.  Put agreement in writing with complete information including how you plan to use the work.  

  • Be specific and explain exactly you will do with the work
  • If permission is granted, only do what you've been granted permission to use
  • Keep a log of all correspondence and contacts along with scope of permissions
  • If permission is not granted, search for a replacement or re-evaluate Fair Use.

Fair Use Explained by Disney Characters

Fair Use Checklist

This tool, originally created by Kenneth D. Crews and Dwayne K. Buttler, provides a way to determine whether or not activities fall within Fair Use.

For more information on the this document, visit Columbia University Libraries Copyright Advisory Office

How Much is Too Much?

This is directly related to Factor #3 -- the amount of the work used.  If you want students to read an entire article or listen to a whole music composition, you will need to make a strong and clear case for why that amount is critical to serve your purposes.