Skip to Main Content

Copyright Resources at Connecticut College: Fair Use

This guide provides a general overview of copyright, and policies and procedures specific to Connecticut College.

Fair Use Guidelines

As mentioned on the Copyright Essentials page, the U.S. Copyright Code permits usage of copyrighted works as long as that usage falls within the legal boundaries of what is considered fair by courts — in other words, "fair use." It's one of the most important concepts in copyright law! In judging whether a use is fair, courts weight four factors:

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

Each of these factors is discussed in more detail in the box at the lower left. 

It's important to note that the factors are weighed together, as a whole. Not every criterion of the four must be satisfied in order for a finding of fair use. Use the box at the lower left, and the tools and links at the lower right, to obtain more information and perspective on this critical copyright issue.

Fair Use Factors

Factor 1 — The Purpose of the Character of the Use — asks about how the copyrighted work is used, with educational, nonprofit or transformative purposes favoring a finding of fair use. It is, however, critical to note that a nonprofit or educational usage does not by itself mean that a usage is fair; the purpose of the use must be weighed with the other three factors.

Usages that favor fair use include:

  • Whether the use is transformative — in other words, whether the copyrighted work is used toward some other purpose, context or end than its original purpose.
  • Educational, nonprofit or personal use
  • Research
  • Parody
  • Commentary

Usages that oppose fair use include:

  • Commercial use
  • Entertainment
  • Non-transformative 

Factor 2 — the Nature of the Copyrighted Work — asks about what kinds of copyrighted works are in question, with certain kinds of works gaining favor for fair use over others.

Works that favor fair use include:

  • Nonfiction
  • Factual
  • Published

Works that oppose fair use include:

  • Creative (art, music, literature, films, plays, photographs)
  • Fiction
  • Unpublished

Factor 3 — The Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used — looks at how much of the work has been used, and how central that portion is to the work.

It is important to note that the law provides no absolute numbers with regard to what can be considered fair use or not. The portion question must be weighed with the other three factors in making a claim or determination of fair use.

Favoring fair use:

  • Smaller quantity
  • Portion used is not central to the work

Opposing fair use:

  • All or most of a work
  • The "heart" of the work

Factor 4 — The Effect of the Use Upon the Copyrighted Work's Market Value — asks whether the usage of a copyrighted work negatively impacts an actual or possible moneymaking opportunity for the copyright holder.

Favoring fair use:

  • No significant effect on the market
  • No market value to begin with
  • Fewer copies made
  • Keeping the work limited to only a few users
  • No available permission or licensing

Opposing fair use:

  • Negatively affecting the market for the copyright holder
  • Numerous copies made
  • Making something publicly available (e.g., via the Internet)
  • Permission or licensing mechanism exists


Resources & Commentary