The copyright statute (17 U.S.C.) provides a number of limitations on the exclusive rights granted a copyright holder. The “Fair Use doctrine” is a relatively brief but extremely important limitation that empowers users to copy a portion or, in some cases, all of a work without asking for permission from the content owner. The decision-making process involves your objective consideration of each of the four factors stipulated in § 107 to assess the impact of your use on the rights of the copyright holder. To that end, forms and tools included on this website will assist you in weighing these factors and making a decision about whether your use is a fair use. A definition of “fair use”, as defined in the statute, is a good starting point.
§ 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use 1
“Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.”
1 The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 amended section 107 by adding the reference to section 106A. Pub. L. No. 101-650, 104 Stat. 5089, 5132. In 1992, section 107 was also amended to add the last sentence. Pub. L. No. 102-492, 106 Stat. 3145.
What does “fair use” mean? Here are several useful online tutorials and videos that help explain what fair use is, and isn’t.
Stanford Center for the Internet and Society– CIS Fair Use Legal Experts Answer Fair Use Questions
Media Education Foundation–A Fair(y) Use Tale