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Copyright at VCSU: Fair Use

For guidelines about copyright, fair use, and links to further resources.

Fair Use resources:

What is Fair Use?

Contrary to popular belief, fair use is not a law. Rather, it is a judicial doctrine that guides courts in how to apply copyright law. As a result, fair use allowances for educational use are much narrower than commonly believed.

The Fair Use doctrine is recognized under U.S. copyright law as an individual right and allows certain uses of copyright protected material without first obtaining permission from the copyright holder. It is intended to serve the public good by allowing use of copyright protected materials for comedy, parody, news reporting, research and education. However, it is important to remember that not every use in an academic setting is automatically considered a fair use.

It is also important to note that fair use must be applied on a case-by-case basis. Simply because an individual complies with fair use in one instance does not guarantee that another use of copyright protected material will be allowable under fair use.

To quote the open access journal PLOS: "Don't assume that you can use any content you find on the Internet, or that the content is fair game just because it isn't clear who the owner is or what license applies."

To accommodate the fair use doctrine, we suggest that copies of traditionally copyrighted (i.e., non-CC) materials may be used in a course for one semester.

For longform works, such as books, up to 10% of the total work may be uploaded. Use of such copies for three or more semesters would violate these guidelines.

However, linking to the original source of a resource is always acceptable. For instance, a link to a New York Times article on is acceptable indefinitely, but a PDF scanned from the Times should be used for no more than two semesters.

By the same token, a link to an article in one of the library's databases is acceptable indefinitely, but a pdf of that article should be used for no more than two semesters.

How do you determine whether the Fair Use doctrine applies?

The following factors must be considered and weighed to determine whether fair use applies:

  1. What is the character or purpose of the use?  If the use is for a nonprofit educational use as opposed to a commercial purpose, it is more likely to be considered fair use.
  2. What is the nature of the work to be used?    If it is a fact based work developed for research or scholarly use as opposed to a creative work created for commercial purposes, it is more likely to be considered fair use.
  3. How much of the work will be used?  The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole must be considered.  This refers to both the amount, length, and duration of the use.  The smaller the amount used, the more likely it favors fair use.
  4. What effect would the use have on the market for or the value of the copyrighted work?  In order to favor fair use, the use should have little or no effect on the creator’s ability to make money from the work.