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Copyright: Fair Use

Learn what copyright is, why it is important, and how to use information legally.

Fair Use Overview

Fair Use Basics

Fair use is a provision in the copyright law that allows the use of copyrighted material for certain purposes under certain circumstances. Columbia University's Fair Use pages offer a detailed explanation of this concept.

Although we cannot assume all uses will be fair, as educators and students at a non-profit institution, we can take advantage of fair use if we make a good faith effort to evaluate fair use based on the four factors.

"Like any exercise of expressive freedom, taking advantage of fair use in education and libraries depends on the application of general principles to specific situations." - ARL's Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries


  • Exercise your fair use rights
  • Use the checklist to evaluate fair use
  • Link to material rather than copying
  • Get permission to make copies or perform a copyrighted work (unless fair use applies)
  • Require students to purchase materials if permission cannot be obtained
  • Use public domain
  • Show films in educational settings, such as classrooms
  • Perform a work in a classroom as part of a teaching activity


  • Assume all uses by educators are "fair use"
  • Assume commonly cited fair use guidelines are absolute legal boundaries
  • Copy materials when there is a reasonable alternative, such as purchasing them or getting permission
  • Show films publicly with open invitations to the community without public performance rights

Evaluating Fair Use - Graphic

Less Likely to be Fair Use: Commercial, Highly Creative, Complete Work, Significant Impact. More Likely to be Fair Use: Educational, Factual, Small Portion, Little or No Impact.

Image from the page "Fair Use" by Georgetown University Library, licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0 

Evaluating Fair Use - Checklists