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Research - Citation Help: Fair Use

Learn how to format your footnotes and bibliographies using Turabian or APA style.

Fair Use

The fair use exemption exists to achieve a balance between the copyright owner and the general public who may benefit from using copyrighted works without seeking permission. This exemption is a limitation on the exclusive rights of the copyright owner and, when correctly applied, can be useful for some educational settings. Certain uses within scholarship, teaching and research may qualify for fair use.

A good fair use analysis/conclusion can allow for use of copyrighted works under certain circumstances without seeking permission or paying usage fees.

Four factors are used when determining whether a use is a fair use:

1.      the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.

This factor will generally weigh in favor of fair use if the proposed use is nonprofit and educational-as opposed to a commercial use. Most uses in the university environment can probably be characterized as nonprofit educational uses. But educational use alone does not automatically result in a finding of fair use, just as a commercial use is not always an infringing one. A nonprofit, educational use would likely favor a finding of fair use, but remember that the other three factors must also be considered. Additionally, with respect to the reproduction right, this factor is more likely to weigh in favor of fair use if the use is transformative rather than verbatim copying.


2.      the nature of the copyrighted work.

This factor will generally weigh in favor of fair use if the work to be used is factual in nature (technical, scientific, etc.), as opposed to works involving more creative expression, such as plays, poems, fictional works, photographs, paintings, and so on. Fair use does not apply to some works, such as standardized tests, workbooks, and works that are meant to be consumed. The case for fair use becomes even stronger when there are only a few ways to express the ideas or facts contained in a factual work. The line between unprotected "facts and ideas" on the one hand and protected "expression" on the other, is often difficult to draw. If there is only one way or very few ways to express a fact or an idea, the expression is said to have merged into the fact/idea, and there is no copyright protection for the expression.

Fair use applies to unpublished works as it does to published works, but the author's rights of first publication may be a factor weighing against fair use if a work is unpublished.


3.      the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.

Although there are no numerical or percentage limits, the larger the amount of a work one uses, the less likely it will be fair use. This deliberate flexibility in the statute allows each situation to be judged on its specific facts and allows the doctrine to be practical in the higher education setting. This factor also takes into consideration the quality of the portion taken as well as the quantity. Sometimes, even if only a small amount is taken, this factor may weigh against fair use if the portion can be justly characterized as "the heart of the matter." It is not difficult to see how this factor and the fourth factor, market effect, work in tandem. The more of the original taken, in amount and substantiality, the greater the negative impact on the market for the copyrighted work.


4.      the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

This factor examines the anticipated effect of the use on the publisher's market. If the proposed use is likely to become widespread and would negatively affect the market for or value of the copyrighted work, this factor would weigh against fair use. This factor is often cited as the most important of the four, although the factors all interrelate and must be evaluated in conjunction with each other.

Helpful Online Resources


Content from this page was adapted from Carl Johnson's Copyright libguide at Brigham Young University and Nate Wise's Copyright libguide at Brigham Young University Idaho.