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Copyright for Faculty: Fair Use

This guide is maintained by NOVA librarians to assist faculty in maintaining a copyright compliant classroom, both online and in-person. If you have questions or comments, please contact Heather Blicher at hblicher@nvcc.edu or Julie Combs at jcombs@nvcc.

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The Four Factors of Fair Use

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is an exception to the exclusive protection of copyright under American law. It permits certain limited uses without permission from the author or owner. The law's Fair Use Doctrine addresses educators' need to make copies and share copies of materials with their students. Use the four-factor test to determine fair use of a copyrighted work. Depending on the circumstances, copying may be considered "fair" for purposes such as teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.

To determine whether a specific use under one of these categories is "fair," courts are required to consider the following factors:

  1. Purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole (is it long or short in length, that is, are you copying the entire work, as you might with an image, or just part as you might with a long novel);
  4. Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

17 U.S. Code § 107 spells out four factors to determine if a use is fair. You must weigh each of these factors, no single factor is decisive. The ALA's fair use analysis tool will assist you with weighing the factors and will email you your choices so you'll have a record.

Amount and Substantiality of Fair Use

Good Practices for Fair Use Amounts

  • A chapter from a book (never copy entire books).
  • An article from a periodical or newspaper.
  • A short story, essay or poem
  • A chart, drawing, picture.

*Remember, the Fair Use Doctrine does not cover you if you take the "heart" of the work.