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Copyright and Fair Use: The Basics: Fair Use

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Fair Use

Fair use provisions in the U.S. copyright law, as established in Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 107, allow limited uses of copyrighted materials without permission from the copyright holder. 

Four factors to be considered to determine if a use is fair include:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

All four factors must be weighed in every case, and no one factor is decisive. Fair use principles are intended to be flexible, but this flexibility can also lead to uncertainty. As a result, fair use continues to be tested in the courts, and interpretations of what is "fair" continue to evolve.

Bottom Line (for now): Fair Use Guidelines for Teachers 

The U.S. Copyright Office guideline Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians (2009) recommends:

  • Single copying for teachers for use in scholarly research or use in teaching or preparing to teach a class.
  • Multiple copying for classroom use or discussion provided that the copy meets tests of brevity (e.g., a complete article of less than 2,500 words) and spontaneity (so that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for permission).