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Copyright RCL

Resources and information regarding copyright.

Fair Use

What is Fair Use?

The Fair Use Doctrine exemption is meant to allow the use of copyrighted works explicitly for educational purposes such as criticism, comment, scholarship, research, and teaching.

Faculty members may find the Fair Use Evaluator tool, developed by the Office of Information Technology Policy of the American Library Association, helpful when deciding whether or not a proposed use of copyrighted material is fair use. 

While this is not an official instrument, it is our recommendation that you retain a copy of the PDF that is generated by the Fair Use Evaluator tool. This will help demonstrate that you made a good faith effort to determine that an item used in class was covered by fair use in the event you or the University are contacted by the copyright owner(s).

Section 107 of the copyright law has four factors that must be considered when determining whether an educational use is fair use of a copyrighted work. The four factors are:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes. Most uses in the University environment will be educational, which weighs in favor of fair use.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted works. The use of works that are factual in nature (scholarly, technical, scientific, etc.) as opposed to works involving more creative expression (plays, poems, paintings, etc.) is more likely to be fair use. Some works that are designed and marketed for educational use (standardized tests, workbooks, etc.) can never be lawfully used without permission of the copyright holder.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. The larger the amount of a work that one uses, the less likely that the use will be considered fair use. Copying the entirety of a copyrighted work generally precludes the application of the fair use doctrine.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work. If the use would negatively impact the market for or value of the work, this factor will weigh against fair use.

Fair Use applies to both face-to-face and virtual teaching situations.  Virtual classrooms settings are addressed by the TEACH (Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization) Act.  The TEACH Act extends copyright exemptions to participants in online and distance learning courses, and gives greater latitude when storing, copying, digitizing, and accessing materials.  Because of the greater access allowed by the TEACH Act, certain requirements must be met for the use to be considered fair:

  • The institution must be an accredited, non-profit educational institution
  • The use must be part of mediated instructional activities
  • Only those students enrolled in the class may have access to the materials
  • Portions of work used or displayed online must be comparable to those used in a typical face-to-face classroom setting
  • The institution must have a publicized copyright statement informing students that course content may be protected by copyright
  • There must be some technological measure that ensures compliance with the copyright policy and prevents students from disseminating copyrighted materials to others not enrolled in the course

REMOTE TEACHING: Please see the Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists: Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research. This statement is meant to provide clarity for US colleges and universities concerning how copyright law applies to the many facets of remote teaching.  It was written by copyright specialists at colleges, universities, and other organizations supporting higher education in the U.S. and Canada who work every day with faculty, staff, and librarians to enable them to make ethical and legal choices about copyright issues in online teaching.   

Fair Use Guidelines

Below are commonly-accepted guidelines for lawfully acquired copyrighted works that can be used according to Fair Use as published by the Conference on Fair Use.


Amount Suggested to meet Fair Use


Up to 10% or 3 minutes, whichever is less


Up to 10% or 1000 words, whichever is less; 
1 chapter out of 10 chapter book

Music/Lyrics/Music Video

Up to 10%, but no more than 30 seconds


No more than 5 images from a single artist;
10% of a published collective works, but no more than 15 works

Data Sets (databases)

Up to 10% or 2500 fields, whichever is less