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Open Educational Resources Information: Fair Use

What is "Fair Use"?

One of the more important limitations on copyright protection is the doctrine of “fair use.” The doctrine of fair use has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years and has been codified in section 107 of the copyright law. Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair.

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • The nature of the copyrighted work (is the content strictly factual, or is there a strong creative element?)
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole (is a small portion of the work being used, or the whole work?)
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work (will the proposed use deprive the copyright holder of income in some way?)

The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

(Extracted from "Fair Use", United States Copyright Office, used under 17 USC § 105)

Purpose and limitations of this guide

The information presented in this guide is for educational purposes, to help members of the campus community become better informed on issues of copyright and Fair Use. This guide does not and cannot provide legal advice. Links to sources are provided so the reader may become familiar with a variety of perspectives on intellectual property issues. These links do not constitute endorsement or recommendation of those sources. Legal advice must be sought for any specific question of law. The information presented here must not be relied on as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed attorney.

Resources for Fair Use*

How do you determine if a use us "fair use?" Unfortunately, fair use is determined by case law, the decisions of judges on specific cases. Over time these decisions provide some indication of what may or may not be "fair use". 

These resources can help you understand how the concept of "fair use" has been used and interpreted:

Copyright and Fair Use overview from Stanford University. This excellent resource includes information on fair use, the public domain, and summaries of fair use cases. 

"Georgia State Copyright Case: What You Need To Know—and What It Means for E-Reserves" by Meredith Schwartz, Library Journal, May 17, 2012

Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians, from the U.S. Copyright Office

Cornell University's Checklist for Conducting a Fair Use Analysis

What You Can Do, a chart from the Association of Research Libraries describing how you can use certain types of materials.

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


Some Copyright Suggestions for Course Reserves

In order to adhere to copyright law, including Fair Use provisions, the Library recommends that faculty limit physical course eserves to the following:

  • One personal copy of a book, A/V item, or journal issue the Library does not own 
  •  Up to 3 photocopies of one article per journal issue of a title the Library does not own 
  • One photocopy of one chapter from any book 
  • One photocopy of less than 10% of any book 
  • One photocopy of a poem, essay, or short story 
  • One photocopy of one illustration, graph, chart per book/journal issue 
  • Government publications
  • Faculty-generated tests, exams, or answer keys
  • Your lecture notes

If you want to use an item for more than one semester, please seek permission from the copyright holder, or ask the Library to acquire the item for its collection.

See Course Reserves for Faculty for more information

Library Director

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Tom Raffensperger
You can call me at (413) 572-5233 but e-mail is best

577 Western Ave, Westfield, MA 01086

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