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Copyright: Fair Use

Fair Use

According to the US Copyright Office:

Copyright owners have the right to reproduce or authorize others to copy their copyrighted work or create phonorecords (copies in CD or DVD form, for example).

One important limitation is the doctrine of “fair use,” (title 17, U. S. Code), developed through a substantial number of court decisions and codified in section 107 of the copyright law.

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, including:

Criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.


Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair.

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of 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.

4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

Fair Use Evaluator

Please use this tool to help you understand fair use.

Remix Culture: Fair Use Is Your Friend

What is Fair Use?

A defense against a claim of copyright infringement.

Any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner.

If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an illegal infringement.

 Note: There are only general rules and varied court decisions that define fair use. The judges and lawmakers who created the fair use exception did  not want to limit its definition, but like free speech, they wanted to leave it open to interpretation.


Most fair use analysis falls into two categories: 

1. Commentary and Criticism

You may reproduce some of the copyrighted work to create a commentary or criticism, some examples include:

  • quoting a few lines from a Bob Dylan song in a music review
  • summarizing and quoting from a medical article on prostate cancer in a news report
  • copying a few paragraphs from a news article for use by a teacher or student in a lesson, or
  • copying a portion of a Sports Illustrated magazine article for use in a related court case.

The underlying rationale of this rule is that the public reaps benefits from your review, which is enhanced by including some of the copyrighted material.


2. Parody

A work that ridicules another, usually well-known work, by imitating it in a comic way. Unlike other forms of fair use, a fairly extensive use of the original work is permitted in a parody in order to “conjure up” the original.


From the Stanford University Libraries

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