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Copyright and Fair Use: Fair Use

A primer on the U.S. Copyright Act and Fair Use.

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This guide provides a basic primer about copyright and fair use for instruction.  If you have specific questions, please e-mail


These pages were created to provide basic copyright information and are not a substitute for legal advice.


Fair Use is. . .

A provision of the U.S. Copyright law, Section 107, that provides for the limited use or reproduction of copyrighted content without seeking permission from the rights holder. 

Fair use is appropriate for teaching, research, scholarship, criticism or commentary, but it may also be used when creating a news reports, blogs, mashups, presentations, art, and music.

However, fair use is not a blatant exception, i.e., all educational purposes might not be deemed fair use, and there are some commercial projects where it can be applied.

When determining whether or a use of copyrighted content is fair, it is important to weigh the following four factors: 

1. The purpose and character of the use
2. The nature of the copyrighted work
3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the entire work
4. Effect of the use upon the potential market value

Fair use is a section of the U.S. Copyright Act, but people are sometimes unsure of how to apply the four factors.  The Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office provides a comprehensive explanation of fair use and how to apply the four factors. 

Factor 1 - Purpose of the Use

Favoring Fair Use    Opposing Fair Use

Teaching, Research, Scholarship

Commercial activity

Criticism, Comment, News Reporting

Profiting from the use

Transformative or productive use                  
(changes the work for new utility)


Restricted access
(to students or other appropriate group)

Bad Faith Behavior


Denying credit to original author

Factor 2 - Nature of the Work

Favoring Fair Use Opposing Fair Use

Published work

Unpublished work

Factual or nonfiction based

Highly creative work (art, music, novels, films, plays)

Important to meet favored educational objectives


Factor 3 - Amount and Substantiality

Favoring Fair Use    Opposing Fair Use

Small Quantity

Unpublished Work

Portion use is not central or significant

Portion used is central or “heart” of the work, .i.e.,
the best or most recognizable part                              

Amount is appropriate for favored educational purpose

Factor 4 - Effect on the Market

Favoring Fair Use Opposing Fair Use

User owns lawfully purchased or acquired copy of original work

Could replace sale of copyrighted work, i.e., numerous copies made

One or few copies made

Significantly impairs market or potential market for copyrighted work or derivative

No significant effect on the market or potential market for copyrighted work

Reasonable available licensing mechanism for use of the copyrighted work

No similar product marketed by the copyright holder

Affordable permission available for using work

Lack of licensing mechanism, i.e., there is no platform available to license
or provide access to the content

Made accessible via Web or public forum

Subject Guide

Sandy DeGroote's picture
Sandy DeGroote
Professor & Scholarly Communications Librarian

Fair Use Tools and Resources

Fair Use Resources 

Copyright Quick Guide
Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office
Fair Use Defined
Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office
Fair Use Analysis (online tool)
Michael Brewer and the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy
Request Permission to use a copyrighted work
Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office
Register your work ©
Scholarly Communication @ UIC
University of Illinois at Chicago Library
Creative Commons Licensing