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Jessie Ball duPont Library

Copyright: All You Need to Know

Copyright and Permissions 2017-18

What is Fair Use?


Copyright balances the rights of creators with the rights of the public to use a work without permission or payment. Under copyright, authors have the right to control the use of their work, subject to the exceptions permitted under the law. While copyright issues can be complex, everyone needs to understand the basics. Failure to comply with copyright law can lead to substantial legal penalties for both you and the university.

Fair use is a concept embedded in U.S. law that recognizes that certain uses of copyright-protected works do not require permission from the copyright holder. (See Title 17, section 107). The fair use exception allows use of copyrighted materials without obtaining permission, based on a four-factor analysis. Each factor is given equal weight, and the type of technology used to perform or display the material is irrelevant to the outcome. The goal is to achieve a balance between the rights of the copyright holder and the rights of the public.


Fair Use in Academia

The Fair Use Doctrine is probably the most important exemption to copyright protections for educational settings, allowing many uses of copyrighted works for the purposes of teaching and research. The complexity of fair use and its importance in academia make it imperative that every member of the Sewanee community understands how to make judgements concerning fair use.

What Determines Fair Use?

The following four factors are used to determine if a use is fair:

  1. The purpose of the use (eg. commercial vs. educational)*
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount of the material used
  4. The effect of use on the potential market for or value of the work

* Not all uses in an academic context are automatically considered fair use!

Tools to help you Determine Fair Use