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Copyright Resources: Fair Use

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is one major limitation on a copyright holder's exclusive rights to a published work.  Detailed in Title 17, Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law, fair use recognizes that certain reproductions of copyright-protected works do not require permissions from copyright holders. Under this section fair use is determined by four factors:

  1. The purpose of the use (e.g. commercial vs. educational)
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount of the material used (the greater the amount copied, the less likely it is fair use)
  4. The effect of use on the potential market for, or value of, the work

Note: Not all uses in an academic context are automatically considered fair use.

Fair use is one of the most important exemptions to copyright protections for educational settings, allowing many uses of copyrighted works for the purposes of teaching and research. The complexity of fair use and its importance in academia makes it imperative that every member of the scholarly community understands how to make judgments concerning fair use.

Fair Use Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is necessary with any copyrighted material.  Here is a quick glance as to how you can gauge risk.  For more in-depth risk assessments, please see our Additional Resources.

fair use stoplight

Image credit: Figure 14.1. “Gauge Your Risk” stoplight model. Adapted from “Teaching Our Faculty: Developing Copyright and Scholarly Communication Outreach Programs,” by J. Duncan, S. K. Clement, and B. Rozum, 2013, in S. Davis-Kahl and M. K. Hensley (Eds.), Common ground at the nexus of information literacy and scholarly communication, p. 280. Copyright 2013 by the Association of College and Research Libraries. Adapted with permission.

Fair Use and the Classroom

Copyright law provides a classroom exemption in Section 110(1) that allows instructors to display or show entire copyrighted works during the course of a face-to-face classroom session. This exception exists independently of fair use and may be a more applicable option for exposing students to copyrighted material. 

Please keep in mind that the exception only applies to face-to-face instruction. Separate rules apply for material posted online for courses, whether the class meets in person frequently, occasionally, or only online. Information regarding fair use for electronic course reserves is directly below.

Fair Use and Ares

Electronic reserves (Ares) is a library service that provides faculty members the opportunity to collect and arrange selected works for their students' use while enrolled in a specific course. Ares promotes open access that is prevalent in academia without infringing on copyright law. 

Fordham Libraries' staff members rely on fair use for all materials posted on electronic reserves. Documents not meeting fair use criteria only can be posted with written permissions granted by the copyright holder and secured by the faculty member. For information regarding how to secure permissions, please see Additional Resources.

Faculty have the option of submitting their course materials via Ares, email, or in person at the Reserves Desk of their campus library. Once course materials are submitted, Reserves staff members  will check for copyright compliance. Course materials are active on the course page in Ares for a defined timeframe, and non-current course pages are archived and available for future use. Once approved, the pages are protected with a unique password allowing only limited access to students enrolled in those specific courses. Course page passwords are created and disseminated by faculty members, and they should be updated regularly.

Less is usually better.  When determining if your use is a fair use, please remember that reproducing a small portion or excerpt of material from a work under copyright is generally better than reproducing a longer portion. The key to determining fair use is the relation of the excerpt to the work as a whole: Even small portions or snippets may weigh against and violate fair use if they are central to--or actually are--the heart of the work. A classic example of this is using the part of Gerald Ford's memoirs in which he discusses pardoning Richard Nixon--that would violate fair use even though it is only a small portion of the original work.

To assist you in making these judgments, please refer to the Fair Use Checklist below.

Circulation & Reserve Departments

Circulation & Reserve Departments
Fordham University Libraries


Walsh Library  ♦  Rose Hill Campus  ♦  718-817-5109  ♦  718-817-3578
Quinn Library  ♦  Lincoln Center Campus  ♦  212-636-6062  ♦  212-636-6061
Fordham Westchester Library  ♦  Fordham Westchester Campus  ♦  914-367-3060  ♦  914-367-3061

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