Fair Use for Teachers

In this guide we have compiled a collection of resources that can help you better understand, apply, and teach fair use. These resources are grouped below by format.

Fair Use and Copyright Basics

Copyright law gives creators -- such as authors and artists -- the exclusive right to copy, modify, distribute, perform, and display their creative works. Copyright has a constitutional purpose designed to promote creativity and the spread of knowledge.

Fair use is central to fulfilling that constitutional purpose and balances the public’s First Amendment rights against the monopolies granted by copyright. In accordance with the fair use doctrine, one has the right to use another’s copyrighted work without permission in a way that adds new meaning. Many educational uses of copyrighted works are protected by fair use, because they transform the copyrighted work for a new purpose.

Courts consider four factors in determining whether a use is fair. These four factors are:

  1. the purpose and character of the use;

  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

  3. the amount and substantiality of the use; and

  4. the effect on the market for the underlying work.


The first factor is arguably the most important: purpose and character. Courts have construed this to mean that a fair use is one that transforms the copyrighted work to add new expression, meaning, or message. For example, a student can quote a copyrighted work in an essay because such commentary or criticism is transformative.

The second factor asks how expressive the genre of the work is, and whether it is published or not. For example, an unpublished fantasy novel would be given stronger protection than a published nonfiction work or computer program.

The third factor asks how much of the original work was taken. This inquiry includes both a quantitative and qualitative component. For example, the fewer words one copies, the more likely it is to be a fair use. Similarly, the more you take of the “heart” of the work, the more likely it is to be an unfair use.

The fourth factor asks whether the use would replace the demand for the original work. For example, if someone publishes a glossary that defines terms from the Harry Potter series, such a glossary could usurp the demand for a similar glossary by JK Rowling (learn more about the Harry Potter case here).




Checklists & Frequently Asked Questions

Curriculum for Teachers


Infographics and Charts


Short Videos About Fair Use

A Fair(y) Use Tale by Eric Faden : https://youtu.be/CJn_jC4FNDo

Guide to Fair Use by TheLamp: http://thelamp.org/new-lamp-video-tutorial-fair-use/


Fair Use Myths


Learn More About the Legal Aspects


Learn About Legal Cases Involving Fair Use


Research and Scholarship

Individual vs. Group 
Release Date 
February, 2016