Fair Use

Fair use is a provision of the copyright law that allows you to use the copyrighted works of others under certain circumstances.  Fair use is a right that you have to use others’ copyrighted work without their permission.  It is a set of guidelines that allow you to make a judgement call about your decision to use others’ copyrighted work.  

Fair use protects you when your use of copyrighted work is criticism, commenting, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.  

All four of these factors must be considered when determining if your use of copyrighted material is fair:

Factor 1: The purpose and character of your use of the copyrighted material

If you are using the copyrighted material in a non-profit educational setting, or for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research your use may qualify as a fair use.

Factor 2: The nature of the copyrighted material

If you are using factual material your use is more likely to be considered fair use than if you are using creative materials.  Additionally, if the material you are using has not been published you have far less of a claim of fair use than if the material has been published.

Factor 3: The amount and sustainability of the portion of the copyrighted material you use

If you use less than a “significant portion” of the entire work, your use may be considered a fair use.

Factor 4: The effect of your use on the potential market or value of the copyrighted material

If your use of the copyrighted material negatively affects the income of the copyright holder or negatively affects the market for the original work your use will not be considered fair.

Making a Fair Use Determination

The best way to decide if your intended use is fair is to think about it systematically.  The Fair Use Checklist has been developed to help you do this.

Fair Use Checklist

The fair use checklist can be printed and completed for each fair use decision you make.  It is good practice to keep each fair use checklist on file for future reference.

Optionally, you may feel more comfortable using this fair use tool to make a fair use determination. 

Fair Use Tool

If you cannot justify your use of a copyrighted work under the provisions of fair use, you still have other options to consider that might allow you to use that work, such as asking the copyright owner for permission, the TEACH Act, or one of the other exceptions in copyright law.  You may also reconsider using that particular work and find another work that is licensed for use or is in the public domain.


Fair Use