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Copyright and Fair Use

A quick overview of copyright law and fair use that may be helpful for faculty and students.

Four Criteria for Fair Use

Use the PANE acronym to help determine if you have a strong case for fair use. Each of the criteria listed should be considered as on a sliding scale from "strong" to "weak." If you have a weak case for "purpose" but a strong case for the remaining criteria, you may still have a strong overall case for fair use. These criteria come from Section 107 of the Copyright Act

P - Purpose - what is the purpose for using the work? Strong cases might be used for teaching, research, criticism, comment or news reporting (as found under Section 107 of the Copyright Act). If purpose of using the work is transformative (being used differently than the work was originally created for) a stronger case for fair use exists.  

A - Amount - how much is being copied? Using the least amount to achieve your purpose will provide a stronger case for fair use. The quality of the amount also counts. Even a small amount might go against fair use if it contains the most crucial elements of the work, or the "heart" of the work.  

N - Nature of the work- is the work factual or creative in nature? Books and journal articles fall under the "creative" side while dictionary entries and data are more factual. The more creative a work is, the weaker your case for fair use is. 

E - Economic Impact - does your use of part of the work deprive the creator from revenue he would have otherwise gotten? If the most important parts (i.e. the "heart") of the work are openly shared, then a person might not be willing to pay for the entirety of the original work. One example would be copying the most important chapter out of a textbook, which in turn might lead students not to need to buy the whole textbook. 

Copyright Basics

Copyright is a protection for the legal rights of the creator of a work. The creator can decide how to use and reproduce their work and also decide what permission to give others regarding using and reproducing their work. 

It can be hard to determine what is a copy and what is the original work. If you do not make a copy, you do not violate copyright law.  

Linking and embedding is NOT making a copy and is legal!

Things NOT under copyright:

  • Government created works
  • Facts
  • Theories
  • Works in public domain (happens when author gives up rights or 70 years after life of creator if copyright is not renewed)


Things under copyright:

  • Original creative works, created in a fixed format, unless creator gives up rights (does not have to be registered to have a copyright)

In some cases, copyrighted works can be used and copied without an infringement of copyright under the "Fair Use" doctrine in Section 107 of the Copyright Act. For more information, see the "Four Criteria for Fair Use" on this page. 

What if you want to use a work but don't have a good case to do so under fair use? Some works have a license that describes what you are allowed to do with the work. Some common licenses you might have seen include Creative Commons licenses. 

You can also request permission to use a work directly from the creator in the event that you do not have a good fair use case. Permission trumps copyright law. 

Helpful Resources