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Copyright Law & The Library: Fair Use

Fair Use

The law codifies the right of fair use in general terms.  The following four criteria are specified to be considered in determining whether or not a particular instance of copying is considered fair:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purpose.
  • The nature of the copyrighted work, (there is no single provision that governs all types of work.  Each instance of copying must be judged individually according to character and purpose of the work being copied.)
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.  (In general, assuming the other necessary factors are present, copying for classroom purposes of extracts or portions, which are not self-contained and which are not substantial in length, should be considered fair use.)
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.  (A use that supplants any part of the normal market for a copyrighted work would ordinarily be considered an infringement.)

Prohibited Copying

Although the concept of fair use does allow for a certain amount of interpretation, there are instances when the user would clearly need to obtain permission to copy a work.  The following are uses when such permission would be necessary.

  • Repetitive copying:  The classroom or reserve use of copies materials in multiple courses over successive years will normally require advance permission from the owner of the copyright.
  • Copying for profit:  In no case should a faculty member charge students more than the actual cost of copying the material without the permission of the copyright owner.
  • Consumable works:  Works that are consumed in the classroom, such as standardized tests, exercises, and workbooks, require permission from the copyright owner.
  • Creation of anthologies as basic text material for a course:  Creation of a collective work or anthology by copying a number of copyrighted articles and excerpts to be purchased and used together as the basic text for a course will in most instances require the permission of the copyright owners.  Such copying is more likely to be considered as a substitute for purchase of a book and thus less likely to be deemed fair use.