Skip to main content

Copyright Compliance Guide: Fair Use

U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index

Released in April, 2015, the Fair Use Index is a searchable index of summaries of Fair Use cases from the United States.

U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index

Fair Use

The four Fair Use Factors have been developed over the years through legislation and court decisions to clarify limited exceptions to the exclusive ownership of copyright holders. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, Fair Use applies to educational uses such as:

  • Quotation of brief passages in an academic or research work for purposes of illustration
  • Reproduction by a faculty member or student of a small portion of a work to illustrate a lesson

Contrary to what some people believe, the Fair Use Factors are not a blank check to violate copyright law when working for a non-profit educational institution.

Instead, the non-profit educational institutional use is only one (1) of the four (4) non-exclusive Fair Use Factors.

All four factors must be considered together when determining Fair Use eligibility as an exception to copyright owners’ exclusive rights.

The four Fair Use Factors as set out by statute are:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes;
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the entire copyrighted work;
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.


More Explanation of Fair Use

Fair Use encompasses the following interpretations. All four factors need to be present for Fair Use to apply:

Non-Profit Educational Use
Non-profit educational use includes teaching, researching, or scholarship at a non-profit educational institution such as UNM. This factor might include multiple copies for classroom use or under conditions where restricted access exists such as password protected electronic reserve.

Purpose and Character
Fair Use favors the use of published factual information that will further educational objectives.

Amount and Substantiality
Fair Use favors use for an appropriate educational purpose for only a small quantity of a copyrighted work that is not central to the entire work.

Market Effect
Any user (such as the faculty member) of a copyrighted work must have lawfully acquired or purchased it as a precondition to fair use. The fair use by a faculty member must not have a significant negative effect on the market value, or a potential market value, for the copyrighted work.

Fair Use factors generally favor use of a copyrighted work in a Hardcopy or Electronic Reserves situation when no negative market value change occurs. For example, a faculty member cannot invoke Fair Use when placing 20 copies of a required text on reserve for a class of 100 students since this action would negatively affect the market value of the required text.

The Fair Use segment of the Resources for Further Guidance module at this website offers helpful links to sites where one can find assistance on applying Fair Use factors to specific situations.