Skip to Main Content

Copyright: Fair Use

Copyright and Fair Use

What is Fair Use? 

Fair Use in copyright law allows for the use of copyrighted materials on a limited basis for specific purposes without requiring the permission of the copyright holder. Essentially, Fair Use allows for the use of copyrighted work without permission, as long as the use falls within a set of parameters known as the four factors. 

Four Factor Test

The Fair Use "four factors" are a rubric that allows an individual to make a best case assessment of whether or not their intended use of a copyrighted work falls under a fair use of the materials in question.  

The four factors consider:

- The purpose for which the work will be used.
​- The nature of the work.
​- How much of the work will be used. 
​- The effect the use would have on the market of the work. 

The four factor test does not necessarily provide a clear-cut answer to the question of fair use.  It is up to the individual to weigh each factor and determine if fair use can be applied to the intended use of the copyrighted work.  When a work is used within fair use guidelines, the source must still be cited. Failure to acknowledge the source is plagiarism.

The Fair Use Checklist

​Use the Checklist to determine if the intended use of the copyrighted work falls within the parameters of fair use. 

-Adapted from the Fair Use Checklist published by Copyright Advisory Services of Columbia University, created by Kenneth D. Crews (formerly of Columbia University) and Dwayne K. Buttler (University of Louisville), under Creative Commons License (CC BY 4.0).

When Fair Use Does Not Apply

​When the four factor test indicates that fair use does not apply to the intended use of a copyrighted work, the individual must decide on the next course of action. 

-The simplest course is to not use the work as originally intended.  The individual may want to reconsider the purpose or the quantity of the work to be used.  

-The individual may contact the copyright holder directly to request permission for their intended use.  Permission may be granted for free or for a fee.

-The Copyright Clearance Center can also facilitate requesting permission from the copyright holder.  

-In relation to course materials in education, the library offers a service called Reserve, which allows faculty to place copyrighted material on hold or "reserve" for students of a specific class to read or view.  Reserves may be placed physically in the library or added to a password protected e-reserve course guide on the library website.