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Copyright Guide: Fair Use

Balancing Scale

What is Fair Use?

You do not always need to get permission to use copyrighted works.

U.S. Copyright law provides exemptions for using copyrighted works without permission under certain conditions, such as Fair Use

There are no absolute rules for what is considered fair use. Copyright law outlines four factors that should be considered when determining fair use. It is up to you to determine how well the use of a work addresses these factors.

The Four Factors of Fair Use

  1. "The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purpose
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and sustainability of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted works as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work."

Determining Fair Use

To determine fair use, you need to conduct a Fair Use Analysis. This analysis will weigh the four factors of fair use.

It is best practice to document your fair use analysis.

Recommended Fair Use Analysis Tool

If you have any questions about conducting a fair use analysis, contact a librarian


This site is intended for informational purposes only.  Library staff members cannot give legal advice.  For legal advice, you should contact an intellectual property attorney.

Meet with a Librarian

Meet with a research librarian to discuss a copyright question.

Fair use FAQs

Isn't educational use the same as fair use?

Unfortunately, it isn't.  Using an item for an educational purpose weighs in favor of fair use for the first factor, but you must consider all four of the factors to make a fair use determination.

Is it always fair use to use 10% or less of a work?

No.  Copyright law does not provide a percentage that would constitute fair use.  Generally, the smaller the amount used, the more likely it is that the use is fair.  However, the other factors must also be considered.

Davidson College Library Research Guides are licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Mailing Address: Davidson College - E.H. Little Library, 209 Ridge Road, Box 5000, Davidson, NC 28035