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Copyright & Fair Use

What is Fair Use?

The right to reproduce a work or authorize others to reproduce a work belongs to the copyright owner. (Note: the author may have transferred those rights to someone else.)  However, the rights of the copyright owner are subject to certain limitations, as outlined in sections 107-118 of the Copyright Act (title 17, U.S. Code.)

One of the most important limitations is the doctrine of "fair use", defined in Section 107. Section 107 lists various purposes for which reproduction of a work may be considered "fair", such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. It also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. Purpose: the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. Nature: the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. Amount: the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. Effect: the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Fair Use Guidelines

The distinction between "fair use" and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may be safely taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

Scott Memorial Library has not adopted official guidelines for determining fair use. Librarians can help you understand the concept of fair use and discuss the facts of your proposed use. However, we cannot make a fair use determination for you. Learn more with the video: Changes to Copyright & Fair Use: What Faculty Need to Know

If you need additional assistance coming to a decision, contact the Office of University Counsel.   


The information presented in this guide is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  Matters of law are subject to interpretation, and University Counsel is the source of authoritative information for Thomas Jefferson University. If you have specific legal questions pertaining to Thomas Jefferson University, please contact the Office of University Counsel.