Electronic Reserves (ERes)

Fair Use

The Fair Use Statute, Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976.
 Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use:
back to top

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include -

  1. the Purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a 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; and
  4. the Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors. 

Copyright Law of the United States of America and Related Laws
Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code


Weighing and Balancing the Factors
back to top

A central tenet of this analysis is that fair use is a flexible doctrine that Congress wanted us to test and adapt for changing needs and circumstances. The law provides no clear and direct answers about the scope of fair use and its meaning in specific situations. Instead, we are compelled to return to the four factors and reach creative and responsible conclusions about the lawfulness of our activities. People will always differ widely on the applicability of fair use, but any reliable evaluation of fair use must depend upon a reasoned analysis of the four factors of fair use. The four factors also need not lean in one direction. If most factors lean in favor of fair use, the activity is allowed; if most lean in the opposite direction, the action will not fit the fair-use exception and may require permission from the copyright owner.

The Meaning of the Four Factors
back to top

While fair use is intended to apply to teaching, research, and other such activities, a crucial point is that an educational purpose alone does not make a use fair. The purpose of the use is, in fact, only one of four factors that users must analyze in order to conclude whether or not an activity is lawful.


Moreover, each of the factors is subject to interpretation as courts struggle to make sense of the law. Some interpretations, and their subsequent reconstruction by policy-makers and interest groups, have been especially problematic. For example, some copyright analysts have concluded that if a work being used is a commercial product, the "nature" factor weighs against fair use. By that measure, no clip from a feature film or copy from a trade book could survive that fair-use factor. Similarly, some commentators argue that if a license for the intended use is available from the copyright owner, the action will directly conflict with the market for licensing the original. Thus, the availability of a license will itself tip the "effect" factor against fair use. Neither of these simplistic constructions of fair use is a valid generalization, yet they are rooted in some truths under limited circumstances. Only one conclusion about the four factors is reliable: each situation must be evaluated in light of the specific facts presented.


The following are brief explanations of the four factors from the fair-use statute. All four factors which affect fair use must be taken into account before reaching a conclusion.

back to Fair Use Statute

Congress favored nonprofit educational uses over commercial uses. Copies used in education, but made or sold at monetary profit, may not be favored. Courts also favor uses that are "transformative" or that are not mere reproductions. Fair use is more likely when the copyrighted work is "transformed" into something new or of new utility, such as quotations incorporated into a paper, and perhaps pieces of a work mixed into a multimedia product for your own teaching needs or included in commentary or criticism of the original. For teaching purposes, however, multiple copies of some works are specifically allowed, even if not "transformative." The Supreme Court underscored that conclusion by focusing on these key words in the statute: "including multiple copies for classroom use."

back to Fair Use Statute

This factor examines characteristics of the work being used. It does not refer to attributes of the work that one creates by exercising fair use. Many characteristics of a work can affect the application of fair use. For example, several recent court decisions have concluded that the unpublished "nature" of historical correspondence can weigh against fair use. The courts reasoned that copyright owners should have the right to determine the circumstances of "first publication." The authorities are split, however, on whether a published work that is currently out of print should receive special treatment. Courts more readily favor the fair use of nonfiction rather than fiction. Commercial audiovisual works generally receive less fair use than do printed works. A consumable workbook will most certainly be subject to less fair use than a printed social science text.

back to Fair Use Statute

Amount is both quantitatively and qualitatively measured. No exact measures of allowable quantity exist in the law. Quantity must be evaluated relative to the length of the entire original and the amount needed to serve a proper objective. One court has ruled that a journal article alone is an entire work; any copying of an entire work usually weighs heavily against fair use. Pictures generate serious controversies, because a user nearly always wants the full image or the full "amount." Motion pictures are also problematic because even short clips may borrow the most extraordinary or creative elements. One may also reproduce only a small portion of any work but still take "the heart of the work." The "substantiality" concept is a qualitative measure that may weigh against fair use.

back to Fair Use Statute

Effect on the market is perhaps even more complicated than the other three factors. Some courts have called it the most important factor, although such rhetoric is often difficult to validate. This factor fundamentally means that if you make a use for which a purchase of an original theoretically should have occurred-regardless of your personal willingness or ability to pay for such purchase-then this factor may weigh against fair use. "Effect" is closely linked to "purpose." If your purpose is research or scholarship, market effect may be difficult to prove. If your purpose is commercial, then effect is presumed. Occasional quotations or photocopies may have no adverse market effects, but reproductions of software and videotapes can make direct inroads on the potential markets for those works.

The above information is excerpted from:
CETUS Fair Use of Copyrighted Works: A Crucial Element in Educating America.(http://www.copyright.iupui.edu/CETUSFairUse.pdf )
(1995) Retrieved November 29, 2006.


 Additional Information:
back to top

Copyright Law of the United States 

Copyright Resources