Tips for Fair Use Week

To celebrate Fair Use Week, the Library is sharing tips on fair use and how the principle enhances scholarship.

Have you ever . . .

  • used library course e-reserves?
  • quoted an author for a review or critique?
  • copied computer code to make a new program?
  • visited a contemporary art exhibition?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have benefited from fair use.

Copyright law provides for the “fair use” principle that allows for the reproduction of copyright works for certain limited, educational purposes. Some people think fair use is a minor exception or marginal carve-out from the expansive protection for authors, but fair use is your fundamental right. The goal of copyright law is to foster the progress of science, the creation of culture, and the dissemination of ideas.

Fair use is crucial for academia. Scholars copy, quote, and adapt cultural and scientific material when informing their own research, or participating in the scholarly conversation:  Historians regularly quote primary sources; filmmakers reinterpret and critique copyrighted material; sociologists document culture with textual, visual, and musical examples. Much of this scholarship will count as fair use and not require permission, but each has to be evaluated individually.

There are no easy, clear cut rules to determine whether something is fair use, and there have certainly been some high-profile cases contesting the matter. While using only a small amount of a work can often weigh in the favor of fair use, in a case about the Gerald Ford diaries, even a short quotation was counted as violation because it revealed the “heart of the book” and the diaries were as yet unpublished. In another case, three academic publishers filed suit against Georgia State University for “pervasive, flagrant, and ongoing unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials” through the the library’s e-reserve system, and yet the court found that 94 of the 99 instances did fall under fair use and were not a violation.

To determine that the use is “fair,” judges tend to ask two key analytical questions:

  • Did the use “transform” the material taken from the copyrighted work by using it for a broadly beneficial purpose different from that of the original, or did it just repeat the work for the same intent and value as the original?
  • Was the material taken appropriate in kind and amount, considering the nature of the copyrighted work and use?

These two questions effectively summarize the four factors of fair use: purpose, nature, amount, and effect. Before assuming your use is fair, consider these four factors.

The Library, in collaboration with IT Services, the Provost’s Office, and the Office of Legal Counsel have developed a website to help you understand copyright, its intricacies, and fair use. Importantly, the website includes a Fair Use Checklist to help you navigate the four factors.

The Library also invites you to visit our guide on fair use to learn more and see how you can take advantage of fair use in your classroom.

This news story has been informed by the Fair Use Fundamentals infographic, as well as the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries.

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