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Copyright Resources for Faculty: Fair Use

Fair Use Doctrine

The Fair Use Doctrine (section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act is not a law, but a guideline to follow when utilizing copyrighted work in your courses without permission of the copyright holder.

There are four factors that should be considered when trying to determine if your intended use of a copyrighted work would be considered fair:

  • the purpose and character of your use
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market.

In the event of a copyright infringement lawsuit, the court will consider all of these factors in order to determine if a copyright violation took place. Think of the factors as a scale.  The more factors that favor fair use, the more likely the court would consider your use appropriate.


You can also use a Fair Use Evaluator to help determine if your use is considered fair.

Evaluation based on four factors of Fair Use

Fair Use Evaulation

Because the Fair Use Doctrine is not a law, there are no steadfast rules to how a fair use exception could be applied. Each case is evaluated individually. 

Use a Fair Use Evaluator to help you consider if your use qualifies as fair.

Factor 1: Purpose 

Fair use tends to favor non-profit and educational uses. Criticisms, commentaries, and parodies are often favored, as are transformative works. Uses the involve for-profit or commercial gain are less likely to fall under fair use. 

Factor 2: Nature

Creative, artistic, not formally published works are less likely to fall under fair use. Works that rely heavily on facts or serve an educational purpose are more likely to favor fair use exceptions. 

Factor 3: Amount

Cases where a small, or less significant portion of the work is used are more favored under fair use. Use of a large portion or use of the most significant part of the work are less likely to be protected by fair use. 

Factor 4: Effect 

This factor looks at whether the use of the work deprives the creator of financial gains, if by using this work in this way people are less likely to purchase access to the full copyrighted version.