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Lucy Scribner Library

Scholarly Communication: Fair Use

What is Fair Use

What Is Fair Use?

Fair use is also stated within Title 17, U.S. Code and allows someone to use a copyrighted work without permission or reimbursement from the copyright owner.  The idea of fair use is that it allows exceptions of copyright for the good of society.  It's important to note that these are guidelines and not set laws, which means you can only use fair use as a legal defense and not a way to avoid being sued for copyright infringement.  There are four main factors that must bet met to be considered fair use.  Remember these factors are not specific rules and can be extremely subjective in their interpretation.

  1. Purpose and Character of the Work
    • How will your work make use of the copyrighted work?  Purposes such as education, news reporting, criticism, commentary, and parody are usually favored by fair use.
    • Is your work transformative?  If your work manipulates and changes the original, copyrighted work so much that it is, in essence, a completely new work, it could qualify as fair use.
  2. Nature of the Copyrighted Work
    • Is the work published or not?  Fair use favors works that are published over those that are unpublished.  The original author should have the right to first publish their own work.
    • Is the work factual or creative?  Fair use favors fact-based works.  You can't copyright facts, and a factual work lends itself more to being seen as contributing to the public good.
  3. Amount or Substantiality of the Portion Used
    • How much of the copyrighted work will you use?  The less you use of a work the better in regards to being favored by fair use.  While you might find guidelines on how much to use in other sources, there are no exact amounts specified in Title 17.
  4. The Effect of the Use Upon the Potential Market
    • Will you be making a profit from using this work?  Even if you're not making a profit, will you affect the copyrighted work's?  Fair use favors works that have minimal or no effect on the profit of a copyrighted work.

More Fair Use Resources

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) presents the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries (PDF), a clear and easy-to-use statement of fair and reasonable approaches to fair use developed by and for librarians who support academic inquiry and higher education.

Stanford University Copyright and Fair Use
Its emphasis is on copyright issues especially relevant to the education and library community, including examples of fair use and policies. Useful copyright charts and tools are continually added to help users evaluate copyright status and best practices.

Fair Use for Educational Multimedia (University of Texas Libraries)
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) presents the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries (PDF), a clear and easy-to-use statement of fair and reasonable approaches to fair use developed by and for librarians who support academic inquiry and higher education.

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts
This Code of Best Practices provides visual-arts professionals with a set of principles addressing best practices in the fair use of copyrighted materials. It describes how fair use can be invoked and implemented when using copyrighted materials in scholarship, teaching, museums, archives, and in the creation of art.