Most people consider any educational use of copyrighted materials to be "fair use." Showing movies in class, posting PDFs of articles on D2L, or reusing a table or figure in your own work. Are these common situations really considered fair use, though? The answer is not always clear, and it is particularly important after the landmark Georgia State University Copyright case that educators understand what fair use is and what it isn't.
Fair use is a statutory exception to the copyright holder's bundle of exclusive rights. It allows for the unlicensed (that is, without permission or payment of royalty) use of a copyrighted work where the balance of several factors weighs in favor of such use. Four of these factors are specifically enumerated in the statute. Application of fair use requires a factual analysis of these four factors as applied to the facts of the proposed use.
The four statutory factors of fair use are:
However, the four factors do not carry equal weight. Factor four carries the most weight, but not so much weight that it is always outcome determinative. Factor three outcomes will vary based on the effect of the favored nonprofit educational purpose of the use under factor one, plus the impact of market substitution as recognized under factor four. Factor two – due to the use of published, non-consumable and non-fictional works – carries little weight. Recent court decisions reveal that transformative use is an important consideration as is the potential harm to the market for the copyrighted work.
The TEACH Act is a specific provision in U.S. copyright law that enables educators to use copyrighted materials in a digital environment, most commonly for distance education.
In order for the use of copyrighted materials in distance education to qualify for the TEACH Act exemptions, the following criteria must be met:
The University of Texas Library created a useful checklist for determining if the TEACH Act applies to your use:
Permission from copyright holders is often needed when creating course materials, research papers, and web sites. You need to obtain permission when you use a work in a way that infringes on the exclusive rights granted to a copyright holder (i.e. outside the boundaries of fair use).
Steps that need to be followed to obtain permission to use copyrighted material:
Determining who the copyright holder is can many times be daunting! Your librarians are here to help.
Much of the information and organization for this page was borrowed from the excellent guides at the Association of College and Research Libraries, Boston College, and the American Library Association.
It was adapted for use by the Ina Dillard Russell Library at Georgia College & State University by Jennifer Townes in 2019.