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Copyright for Educators

This guide can help faculty and staff understand the exceptions and limitations to copyright in an academic setting

Fair Use and Educator Responsibility

From an academic standpoint, the Fair Use Doctrine is by far the most important exception to copyright laws. Fair use allows copyrighted works to be used for educational, research, and teaching purposes without the need to seek permission or pay licensing fees. However, such a powerful tool is not without its drawbacks. Designed to be flexible, the Fair Use Doctrine is not always easy to understand and apply.

Responsibility falls to the Educator to carefully evaluate the fair use potential in each situation.

Assessing Fair Use

Defined in section 107 of copyright law, the Fair Use Doctrine allows copyrighted works to be used for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.

There are four factors to consider when determining fair use:

  1. Purpose and character of the use
    • nonprofit educational vs. commercial
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work
    • factual vs. creative
  3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used
    • small quantity vs. large portion
  4. Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value
    • few copies made vs. numerous copies made


Sometimes referred to as the 5th factor, knowing what can be categorized as "transformative use" is extremely helpful when building a case for fair use. Here are some basic questions to help you gauge whether or not your use has transformative qualities:

Have you used the copyrighted work in a new or unexpected way?

Did your derivative add value to the original work?

Was the amount you used necessary and appropriate in relation to your purpose?

Useful Tools

Useful Documents

Created by Hall Davidson using fair use guidelines, the chart below provides a good overview of how copyrighted materials can be used in face-to-face instruction. Divided up by medium, this chart outlines for educators how much of a work can be used, what can be done with the work, and some of the limitations.