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Copyright and Creative Commons

Understanding copyright issues in the classroom, plus a self-paced instructional module!

What is Fair Use?

What is Fair Use?

Fair Use is the doctrine that brief excerpts of copyright material may, under certain circumstances, be quoted verbatim for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, and research, without the need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder.

How do you identify Fair Use?

How Do You Identify Fair Use?

There are four questions you need to ask:

  • Purpose
    • What is the purpose and character of the use?
    • Courts look at how the party claiming Fair Use is using the work. Non-profit educational institutions are more likely to be granted Fair Use, but not always. If the work is being transformed in some way, that is more likely as well.
  • Nature
    • What is the nature of the copyrighted work?
    • The more creative the work, the less likely Fair Use will be granted.
  • Amount
    • What is the amount and substantiality of the portion taken?
    • Less is better! Also, if the Most Important (or "heart") of the work is being used, it is less likely to be granted Fair Use.
  • Effect
    • What is the effect of its use upon the potential market?
    • If the copyright holder is likely to lose sales because of the use, Fair Use may not be claimed.


Nota Bene

The "Films" Question and Fair Use

According to Fair Use, you can show a full-length film (documentary, feature, or otherwise) in your face-to-face class as long as all of these conditions are met:

  1. The film is integral to the course content.
  2. The film is shown in your classroom during class.
  3. All attendees are registered for the course.
  4. You are showing a legally-obtained copy.

Fair Use NEVER applies to the public performance of a film. This includes:

  1. Public events, even if you've only advertised to students.
  2. Your classroom, if you have invited others (not enrolled) to attend.

Public Performance information:

  1. Public performance rights are typically granted by the distributor, filmmaker, or movie studio. There are also licensing companies you can contact to secure those rights.
  2. You must abide by the contract you signed for those rights. (ie: Some are for one showing, some are unlimited.)
  3. Some library resources are licensed for public performance and some are not. If you are not sure, ASK!


(We'll handle online films in the next section!)

Fair Use Checklist

I Need Help!

The easiest way to determine if your reuse of someone else's material meets the Fair Use standard is to apply the fair use checklist, and here is a handy-dandy link!

Fair Use Checklist

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