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Fair Use Guidelines

What does Fair Use mean?

Fair Use Guidelines for Educators

U. S Copyright Office- Fair Use Statement

One means of addressing the conflict between the rights of the creator and the rights of the users of the information is the doctrine of "fair use." In 1978, fair use became law in the United States, even though it had been recognized long before that. Fair use allows copying or use of a limited amount of material without permission from, or payment to, the copyright owner, when the use is reasonable and not harmful to the rights of the copyright owner. The law now extends copyright protection to unpublished works also (Evans, p.523).

Fair use specifies four criteria to use in determining whether a particular instance of copying is "fair use." These include:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purpose.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work, including whether it is published and factually based.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work (Evans, p. 526).

Limitations to Fair Use 

The Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia were created in 1996 to clarify the application of fair use of copyrighted works as teaching methods are adapted to new learning environments. These are guidelines only, accepted by many, but not yet placed into law. When in doubt, ask permission. A good source of information on this topic is Janis Bruwelheide, Copyright Primer for Librarians and Educators. Chicago: ALA, 1995.

Fair Use Evaluator (Online Tool)

 Fair use is limited by the following parameters:


Educators may use their projects for teaching courses for two years. Use beyond that time period requires obtaining permission for each copyrighted portion.


Portions are generally specified in the aggregate, meaning the total amount that can be used from a single copyrighted work.

Motion Media

Up to 10% or 3 minutes, whichever is less, from a single copyrighted work.


Up to 10% or 1000 words, whichever is less, from a single copyrighted work. Special limitations are placed on poems.

Music, Lyrics, and Music Video

Up to 10%, but in no event more than 30 seconds, of the music and lyrics from an individual musical work.

Illustrations and Photographs

No more than 5 images by an artist or photographer. From a published collective work, no more than 10% or 15 images, whichever is less. The jury is still out on how this might apply to use of an image found on a Web site where only one or two images might exist. ASK PERMISSION. Also make sure the Web owner is indeed the legal copyright owner.

Data Sets

Up to 10% or 2500 fields or cell entries from a database or table.

Copying and Distribution

There may be no more than two copies, only one of which can be placed on reserve. An additional copy may be made for preservation (backup) purposes. Student projects can be included in portfolios or used for job seeking purposes (Rathbun, p. 22).

When in doubt, ask for permission before use.