Fair Use Criteria

Be sure to check out the University of Minnesota’s Thinking Through Fair Use online checklist!

If the work is commercially available, then it is prudent to purchase or have the school purchase a copy.

Criterion 1: What is the purpose and character of the use?

Use that is "nonprofit educational" carries a lot of weight as to fair use. In addition, if the use is criticism, commentary, parody or in some other way "transformative," such as quotations used in a paper, or parts of a copyright-protected work used in a multimedia production for your teaching, it also is considered fair use.

Note: The fact that you are not charging money does not by itself constitute fair use.

Criterion 2: What is the nature of the work?

This refers to the nature of the original work. Was it, for example, published or unpublished? Was it fiction, nonfiction or personal expression? Fair use favors published, factual work over dramatic works or works of personal expression. However, if the purpose and character of use is nonprofit public education, even dramatic works and works of personal expression can fall into the fair use arena. In addition, the work being used must be from a legally obtained copy.

Criterion 3: What is the amount and quality of work being used?

Key to this criterion is the amount of the portion used in relation to the entire work. This is why specific numbers and percentages are difficult to assign. For example, 10 pages of a 270-page novel is far different from 10 pages of a 20-page journal article. This criterion also considers the quality or amount of key information used. Using key plot scenes from a novel can weigh against fair use. However, as mentioned above, if the purpose is nonprofit education or scholarly research, then in some cases using an entire work is considered fair use.

Criterion 4: What effect does the use have on the market for the original work?

Several factors come into play here. For example, is the work available for sale? How widespread is the use? How long or how often will the work be used? Does this use affect the copyright owner's ability to collect royalties?

If the work is commercially available, then it is prudent to purchase or have the school purchase a copy. Even if the work is available for sale, it is permissible to use a legally obtained copy for one term. After that, an original should be purchased.

Finally, educational use should be limited to the educational setting. This could include the class, parents, as well as school faculty and administrators. In some cases, it is even permissible to use copyright work in conference presentations. However, the reproduction of the work should not be made available to the general public.