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Arkansas State University

Copyright: Fair Use

This guide is intended to give you basic information about copyright.

Fair(y) Use Tale

Fair Use

What is Fair Use?

The current copyright law, while giving the owner of the copyright the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute the work, has one exception to these exclusive rights which is called the "fair use exception."  The purpose of the fair use exception was created to allow students, scholars and critics the right to reference a copyrighted work in their own scholarship, teaching and critiques without fear of litigation.

The fair use exception permits the reproduction of portions of copyrighted works without the copyright owner's permission, but only under very limited circumstances. The Fair Use Doctrine was added to the Copyright Act of 1976 and was based on a history of judicial decisions that recognized that unauthorized use of copyrighted materials were "fair uses." Unfortunately  Section 107 is not specific, and fair use should be examined on a case by case basis.

While there is no one right answer as to what constitutes "fair use" , there is listed in the copyright law four factors that are meant to guide you in using copyrighted materials. These four factors are considered in all fair use evaluations and you should make a good faith effort to comply with these factors although it is not a simple task. 

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. 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.

Warning Concerning Copyright Restrictions

The Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.

Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "Fair Use", that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

The instructor must provide all reprinted material (including multiple copies) to be placed on Reserve; the instructor is therefore responsible for copyright compliance.