Fair use lets you use parts of works created by others in your work. Sometimes you need to obtain permission from the authors/owners of an original work to use parts of it.
The concept of fair use is somewhat vague when discussed in the abstract. Its meaning depends critically on the particular facts of the individual situation. The law does not clearly distinguish which uses are fair and which are not.
The "fair use" doctrine allows limited reproduction of copyrighted works for educational and research purposes. The relevant portion of the copyright statute says that the "fair use" of a copyrighted work, including reproduction "for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research" is not an infringement of copyright. The law lists the following factors as the ones to be evaluated in determining whether a particular use of a copyrighted work is a permitted "fair use" rather than an infringement of the copyright:
• The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit
• The nature of the copyrighted work
• The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
• The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Although all of these factors will be considered, the last factor is the most important in determining whether a particular use is "fair." Where a work is available for purchase or license from the copyright owner in the medium or format desired, copying of all or a significant portion of the work instead of purchasing or licensing a sufficient number of "authorized" copies would be unfair. Where only a small portion of a work is to be copied and the work would not be used if purchase or licensing of a sufficient number of authorized copies were required, the intended use is more likely to be found to be fair. However, there is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Moreover, acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.
You can obtain permission from an author or publisher using this sample copyright permission letter.
Visit the U.S. Copyright Office website for the most recent information about Copyright and Fair Use. To search for registered works and documents from January 1, 1978 to the present, click on the Search Records tab from the main page. Note: A fee-based service to conduct the search and produce a report on its findings is available through the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress.
Alternatively, you may contact the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), a pay-per-use, fee-based service, that obtains copyright permissions for you.
More Resources on Fair Use and Copyright
- University System of Georgia Copyright Policy provides an understanding of copyright and educational fair use as well as a basic understanding of the legal background of copyright law and fair use.
- Copyright Indiana University
- Cornell University - U.S. Code, Title 17, Copyright website contains detailed information about copyright.
- AU School of Communications Center for Media and Social Impact: Provides access to a series of documents on the Code of Best Practices for Fair Use focusing primarily on literary and multi-media resources.
- Center for Media and Social Impact: Focuses primarily on fair use of literary and multi-media resources including: case studies, codes and teaching tools.
- Visual Resources Association: Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and Copyright.
- Visual Resources Association: Fair Use Statement
- University of Southern California Libraries: Fair Use: Using Images and Non-Textural Materials
- U.S. Copyright Office
- ProQuest Administrator Site:
Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis: Ownership, Fair Use, and Your Rights and Responsibilities by Kenneth D. Crews
Supplement: Copyright Laws Around the World by Kenneth D. Crews
- Copyright Basics for GW is a comprehensive guide to copyright with links to information explaining copyright ownership to "Fair Use" of copyrighted materials.
- Dissertation Research includes links to tools to help you determine the fair use of resources.
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