Copyright Fair Use

One of the rights accorded to the owner of copyright is the right to reproduce or to authorize others to reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords. This right is subject to certain limitations found in sections 107 through 122 of the Copyright Act. One of the more important limitations is the doctrine of "fair use." Although fair use was not mentioned in the previous copyright law, the doctrine has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years. This doctrine has been codified in section 107 of the copyright law.

Determining Fair Use: The Four Factors

Fair use is the most significant limitation on the copyright holder's exclusive rights. Deciding whether the use of a work is fair IS NOT a science. There are no set guidelines that are universally accepted. Instead, the individual who wants to use a copyrighted work must weigh four factors:

  1. The purpose and character of the use:
    • Is the new work merely a copy of the original? If it is simply a copy, it is not as likely to be considered fair use.
    • Does the new work offer something above and beyond the original? Does it transform the original work in some way? If the work is altered significantly, used for another purpose, appeals to a different audience, it more likely to be considered fair use.
    • Is the use of the copyrighted work for nonprofit or educational purposes? The use of copyrighted works for nonprofit or educational purposes is more likely to be considered fair use.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work:
    • Is the copyrighted work a published or unpublished works? Unpublished works are less likely to be considered fair use.
    • Is the copyrighted work out of print? If it is, it is more likely to be considered fair use.
    • Is the work factual or artistic? The more a work tends toward artistic expression, the less likely it will be considered fair use.
  3. The amount and substantially of the portion used:
    • The more you use, the less likely it will be considered fair use.
    • Does the amount you use exceed a reasonable expectation? If it approaches 50 percent of the entire work, it is likely to be considered an unfair use of the copyrighted work.
    • Is the particular portion used likely to adversely affect the author's economic gain? If you use the "heart" or "essence" of a work, it is less likely your use will be considered fair.
  4. The effect of use on the potential market for the copyrighted work:
    • The more the new work differs from the original, the less likely it will be considered an infringement.
    • Does the work appeal to the same audience as the original? If the answer is yes, it will likely be considered an infringement.
    • Does the new work contain anything original? If it does, it is more likely the use of the copyrighted material will be seen as fair use.

Source: The information on this web page is based on the U.S Copyright Office Open external Web site and the University of Maryland University College. Open external Web site

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