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Brief Guide to Copyright & Fair Use

Fair Use

Fair Use Evaluator:  Helps collect, organize, and document the information you may need to support a fair use claim, and  provides a time-stamped PDF document for your records. Developed by the American Library Association, Office for Information Technology Policy.

Fair use of copyrighted materials. From the Copyright Crash Course, University of Texas Libraries, Georgia Harper.

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries. Association of Research Libraries, developed in partnership with the Center for Social Media and the Washington College of Law at American University.

Codes of Best Practices and additional ResourcesCenter for Media and Social Impact, School of Communication, American University.

The Fair Use Doctrine is probably the most important exemption to copyright protections for educational settings, allowing many uses of copyrighted works for the purposes of teaching and research. Not all use is fair use, simply because it occurs in an academic setting.

The four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • 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

The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. The Copyright Office cannot give this permission.

When it is impracticable to obtain permission, use of copyrighted material should be avoided unless the doctrine of fair use would clearly apply to the situation.

- From the web site of the U.S. Copyright Office

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