Fair use is a doctrine under copyright law that permits certain uses of a work without the copyright holder’s permission. The fair use of a copyrighted work is an exception to the exclusive rights of a copyright holder. Fair use may be made of a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research. However, the use of a work for one of these purpose does not automatically qualify as a fair use: a nuanced analysis weighing four factors must be done for each factual scenario.
Fair Use Factors
The copyright statute states that the following four factors must be evaluated to determine in whether a use is fair:
No one factor is dispositive. Fair use is a flexible balancing test that is difficult to define apart from the specific factual circumstances in which it has been applied by courts. Be wary of fair use “scales” that attempt to assign a weight to each factor to be weighed against the others; the doctrine requires determining fairness on the whole in the particular context.
Explanation of Each Factor:
Consider: is the use educational or commercial? Is it a non-profit use or a use for profit? Is the use transformative or iterative?
Consider: is the work published or unpublished? Is it factual or creative?
Consider: how much of the work are you using? How important is the portion you are using to the work as a whole?
Consider: how many copies are being made and how widely will they be distributed? Is the use spontaneous or is it repeated? Is the original for sale or license?
In the teaching context, it may be useful to take the following steps to help qualify a use as fair and protect yourself and the University from infringement liability:
Classroom exceptions may apply and allow your use.
Use these tools to help you decide what to do:
This guide is designed to provide basic, general information about copyright, and does not constitute legal advice. The links to third party sites in this guide are provided for your convenience. Boston College does not take responsibility for the content of these other sites. If you have a question about a specific copyright issue not addressed by this guide, the Libraries encourage you to seek further advice.
If you have questions about this guide or a basic copyright issue encountered in your work, and need more help please contact John O'Connor, Scholarly Communication Librarian, or the subject liaison for your department.
If you have a question about the University’s policies regarding copyright, please contact the Office of Technology Transfer and Licensing at 2-1682. If you have a question that requires the advice of an attorney, please contact the Office of the General Counsel at 2-0960.