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Fair use

The University of California encourages “the wide dissemination of information and knowledge for its teaching, research, and public service mission, while also complying with copyright law.”

The University of California believes that the right of content consumers to access copyrighted works under fair use to further disseminate knowledge is paramount for the promotion of academic freedom, creative expression, education and instruction, and ultimately, the full participation by all members of society in furthering the pursuit of knowledge.

Introduction to fair use in teaching and research

U.S. Copyright Law provides important limitations to the rights of copyright holders that are specifically aimed at nonprofit educational uses of copyrighted works. Fair use allows for limited copying of copyrighted works without the permission of the copyright owner. Under certain conditions, copyrighted works may also be used for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research. (Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law)

Four factors of fair use

The fair use section of U.S. copyright law lists the following factors to be evaluated in determining whether a particular use of a copyrighted work is a permitted fair use: 

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes — uses in nonprofit educational institutions are more likely to be fair use than works used for commercial purposes, but not all educational uses are fair use.
  • The nature of the copyrighted work — reproducing a factual work is more likely to be fair use than a creative, artistic work such as a musical composition.
  • The amount and significance of the portion used in relation to the entire work — reproducing smaller portions of a work is more likely to be fair use than larger portions.
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work — uses which have no or little market impact on the copyrighted work are more likely to be fair than those that interfere with potential markets.

Fair use is purposefully broad and flexible. It requires a thoughtful analysis of each of the four factors based on specific circumstances. In applying the four fair use factors, each factor is relevant in order to determine whether a particular use is a fair use. A final determination on fair use depends on weighing and balancing all four factors against the facts of an individual situation.

Guidance on the use and limitations of fair use

UC faculty, staff, and students are encouraged to make decisions about a contemplated fair use of copyrighted works in an informed and reasonable manner, consistent with educational and research objectives.

In evaluating the four factors of fair use, you can use the following questions to help assess your particular situation:

  • Are you planning on using the work in a different way, or for a different purpose, than the original creator? In copyright terms, is your use “transformative”?
  • Are you using an amount of that work that is narrowly tailored to your new purpose?

Recent case law has shown that an affirmative answer to both of these questions weighs in favor of fair use.

If it is unclear whether a particular use would be permitted under fair use, you should consider obtaining permission to use the work from the copyright owner.

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