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This LibGuide provides basic information about U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17) and discusses exemptions to exclusive rights.

Fair Use

The United States Code Title 17 Section 107 (U.S.C. 17§ 107) codifies the limitations on exclusive rights and specifies that "fair use" is not an infringement of copyright.  This use, notwithstanding the provisions of Sections 106 and 106A, allows for legal reproduction of copyrighted works for purposes such as “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research,” and apply directly to nonprofit, academic institutions. 

Fair Use (§107)

Fair use is an exemption built into copyright law that limits the exclusive rights of the copyright holder to allow certain uses without having to seek permission.  Unfortunately, the law does not provide a straightforward delineation of what IS and what IS NOT legal. Instead, the law supplies four factors that must be used to evaluate your intended use of copyrighted material. You must perform a fair use evaluation each time you want to invoke fair use. A helpful way to look at the fair use evaluation process, is to conduct the evaluation as if you are building a legal argument. In court, judges would weigh the use of copyrighted material against these four factors when deciding whether or not the specific use of copyrighted material would constitute an copyright infringement. 

Four Factors

  • the purpose and character of your use
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market

Click here for a detailed discussion of the "Four Factors" (begins on page 9) 

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries

The Fair Use Checklist

The Checklist and this introduction is licensed by a Creative Commons Attribution License with attribution to the original creators of the checklist Kenneth D. Crews (formerly of Columbia University) and Dwayne K. Butler (University of Louisville).

Creative Commons License


Fair Use Evaluator

Fair Use Evaluator

evaluator The Fair Use Evaluator helps you understand and determine if the use of a protected work is a “fair use.” It helps collect, organize, and document the information they may need to support a fair use claim, and provides a time-stamped PDF document for the users’ records.  





CC BY-NC-SA Attribution: © 2008 Michael Brewer & the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy

Public Domain Slider

Public Domain Slider

slider A public domain work is a creative work that is not protected by copyright. The Public Domain slider, created for the American Library Association by the Office of Information Technology, can help determine the copyright status of a work first published in the United States. A work published before 1927 is in the public domain. Determining copyright status after 1927 can be difficult because of varying copyright registration requirements over the years and because the term of copyright has changed a number of times. The good news is that there are many works in the public domain that have been published after 1927 because registration was not renewed and/or the copyright symbol – © – does not appear on the work; you are free to use public domain works in any way that you choose with appropriate attribution.


Attribution: © 2012 Michael Brewer & the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy