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Dahlgren Memorial Library

Copyright for Online or Virtual Classroom

What is Fair Use?

"Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Fair use is intended to be ambiguous and is handled on a case-by-case basis. This means that there is no formula to ensure that a predetermined percentage or amount of a work—or specific number of words, lines, pages, copies—may be used without permission" (Crews, 44).  

According to Kenneth Crews in Copyright Laws for Librarians and Educators, "fair Use is a balancing test and is highly fact-sensitive" (56). This means that each of the four factors is considered or weighed separately.  Your use only has to be considered "fair" overall. In the subsequent sections, please find a more detailed explanation of each factor. Regardless of whether you are a content user or creator, it is essential that you become familiar with and comfortable using each factor. 

Fair Use Factors

  1. Purpose or character of the use 
  2. Nature of the work
  3. Amount or substantiality of the work
  4. Effect of the use on the market


The purpose of this guide is to provide resources and information for resolving copyright questions. This research guide does not supply legal advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of legal counsel.