Fair Use for Faculty

Be sure to check out the University of Minnesota’s Thinking Through Fair Use online checklist and the University of Minnesota's fair use analysis tool!

Remember, you can ask for -- and often obtain -- permission to copyright-protected materials for your courses.

The issue of fair use of copyrighted materials comes up frequently in higher education.

The key for faculty is to apply the four-factor test established in the copyright law.

Make sure the use is for education in a nonprofit educational setting. The use also has to be germane to the instruction of the topic. In other words, don't show a movie just for entertainment or as a reward.

Make sure you legally obtain the copy. Even if it is used for educational purposes, a bootleg copy of a video is still illegal. When possible, use factual works, but when necessary, dramatic works can be used to illustrate a point or as a basis for criticism or commentary. You also may use excerpts from periodicals, but make sure a copyright notice appears on each copy. It's a good idea to follow the copyright print guidelines.

Unless you're teaching a course on a specific author, it's not a good idea to use too many items from one author. Also, according to the guidelines, you need to obtain permission or use  another author after two years.

Finally, use of copyright-protected material should not be a substitute for students purchasing textbooks or other books readily available in the marketplace. One key component of copyright law centers on the effect of use on the marketability of the work. Does your use dilute the market or potential sales of the copyright holder? If it does, you're probably infringing on the copyright holder's rights. Limit your use of copyright-protected works to those in your classes and the immediate educational community. One way to determine if you are infringing on copyright work is to ask, Could anyone off the street just walk in here and use this material? If they can, you are probably in infringement.


It's important to remember any license you enter into with a publisher overrules basic copyright provisions. For example, under copyright law, it's illegal to copy from tests or other consumables. However, a textbook publisher often will grant permission to copy tests from test banks if you have adopted the textbook. Likewise, almost all computer software comes with separate licensing agreements that put limits on uses that might have been acceptable under the Fair Use clause.


Finally, remember you can ask for (and often obtain) permission to use copyright-protected materials for your courses. It's important to identify what material you want to use, how much, and why. Then, contact the publisher and request permission for that specific use. Don't give up if you don't get a reply. The Copyright Clearance Center researches and requests permission from copyright holders. There often is a fee accompanying the granting of permission. Fees can be negotiated through your academic department and, in some cases, through a college copyright officer.