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Copyright: Fair Use

What is Fair Use?

The Fair Use rule of copyright law is intended to support teaching, research, and scholarship. It allows individuals to make limited use of a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, commentary, or teaching, without obtaining permission from the copyright holder. 

There are four factors to consider in order to determine whether or not a particular use would be considered Fair Use:

1. What is the purpose of the use? 

Fair use favors uses that are nonprofit, educational, or personal, for purposes of teaching, research, criticism, scholarship, commentary, or news reporting. Fair use does not apply to uses that are commercial, for-profit, or entertainment. 

2. What is the nature of the work?

Fair use is more likely to apply to published works over unpublished works, and factual works over creative works such as art, music, plays, and novels. 

3. How much of the work will you use? 

Fair use favors using small amounts of a work, rather than large parts of a work or the whole work in entirety. If the small part of the work constitutes a large part of the whole, the use may weigh against fair use, even if the actual amount being used is small. 

4. What effect will the use have on the market for the work?

Fair use does not favor uses that would deprive the copyright owner of income or a potential market for their work. 


Examples taken from University of Maryland's copyright guide and Stanford's Fair Use information page. 

Four Factors of Fair Use

Four Factors of Fair Use, presented by Julie Ahrens, Stanford Center for Internet & Society.

TEACH (Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization) Act

Read the full text of the TEACH Act (Public Law 107-273, Section 13301) at

The TEACH Act applies the classroom teaching exemption (Section 110 of the Copyright Act) to distance learning. Through this, "reasonable portions" of copyrighted works can be transmitted electronically to students using similar guidelines to what is allowed for classroom teaching. Such transmissions must be made  under the supervision of the instructor as part of the instructional activities and must be directly related to the class. Retention after the end of the class or further dissemination of the copy is not allowed.

LaFrance, M. (2011). Copyright law in a nutshell (2nd Ed.). St. Paul, MN: West.

Copyright and Fair Use Resources

  • U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index

  • Fair Use Evaluator
  • Fair Use Quiz
  • Fair Use Checklist
  • Thinking Through Fair Use

Fair Use Fundamentals