Some information about copyright talks about fair use and four factors, and some talks about classroom guidelines. What’s the difference?

Fair use is clarified in copyright law in the follow manner: “Fair use of a copyrighted work…for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright (U.S.C Title 17, Section 107).” For use of copyrighted materials to qualify as fair use, it use must be measured against certain criteria, commonly known as the four factors:

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a 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; and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Each of these factors can be open to some interpretation. One helpful resource in thinking through each of these factors for a given use of copyrighted material is the Using Existing Works page from the University of Minnesota. Each time a copyright protected work is used under the fair use provision, it is important that a four-factor analysis be done.

Perhaps because the four factors are open to interpretation, there have been a number of attempts to establish clear guidelines for different media types and different uses. The Classroom Guidelines are popular guidelines, though they are not, in fact, law.