The “fair use” provision in the copyright law allows some uses of copyrighted material without obtaining permission, but fair use is not a right. The determination that a use is “fair” depends on four tests:
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole (for media, the amount allowed is very small);
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
All of these tests must be applied in every case to determine whether the fair use exemption applies. Intended non-profit educational use alone is not enough. You may search the phrase “fair use” at Cornell University’s United States copyright law web site to find more information about this provision, including guidelines for applying the four tests.
Most of the uses you will make of copyrighted text in your undergraduate career will be covered by the fair use provision. For example, you may make one copy of an article or book chapter under fair use. However, fair use may not cover your intended use of images, recorded music, video, or other media. Once you leave school and enter the workforce, you will need to be even more careful about observing copyright law requirements.
In the electronic information age, the issues related to copyright are becoming more and more complicated. Many are not yet resolved clearly in the law.