What About Fair Use?

Learning Objective

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to define “fair use.”

As explained in the chapter in this guide on copyright, there are exceptions and limitations to copyright protection. In some countries, those exceptions and limitations are clearly defined in law. In the United States, on the other hand, the fair use doctrine provides guidelines but not strict definitions of the exceptions and limitations to copyright. This approach allows for flexibility, especially as new technologies emerge, but it can result in uncertainty.

The U.S. Copyright Office identifies certain types of uses of copyrighted materials as the kinds of activities that may qualify as fair use: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. The Copyright Office also describes the four factors to consider when determining when fair use applies.

  1. For what purpose is the work being used? Is the use is of a commercial nature? Is it for nonprofit educational purposes?
  2. What is the nature of the copyrighted work? Using more creative or imaginative works is less likely to be seen as fair than using works of a more factual nature.
  3. How much of the copyrighted work is being used?
  4. How is the use of the copyrighted work likely to affect the potential market for or value of the work?

For more information about when fair use might apply to your use of a copyrighted work, see the guide Fair Use and Copyright: Students from the CUNY Office of Library Services or consult with a librarian at your school.