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Research Fundamentals Tutorial

How to use copyrighted material

If you quote copyrighted material in your research projects, are you required to get permission from the copyright owner? 

Most of the time, the answer is no. This is because of the doctrine of Fair Use

Fair Use is a legal term that allows people to use portions of copyrighted material "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research" without infringing on the copyright holder's rights. 17 U.S.C. § 107.

Fair use was developed in 1976 to allows teachers and students to reproduce portions of copyrighted works in educational, not-for-profit environments, in some cases. Fair Use can’t be used in all situations, as other laws and restrictions may over-rule it. There are no hard and fast rules or laws about Fair Use, but when there’s a legal disagreement, the courts make decisions based on four factors.

The Four Factors

The four factors that judges use to determine if a use falls under fair use are:


The purpose and character of the use:

Is this copyrighted work being used for profit or for nonprofit educational purposes? Is it being used to engage in a scholarly or educational conversation, or is it being reproduced without commentary.


The nature of the copyrighted work:

Fair use is often easier applied in nonfiction or non-creative works because facts can’t be copyrighted.  


The amount of the copyrighted work used:

Reproduce only what you need to make your point. Quoting three sentences from a scholarly journal article would most likely be allowed under fair use, as long as it advances your point. Quoting three lines from a five-line poem would be thornier, as it would constitute a significant portion of the entire work.


The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work:

Will reproducing the work infringe on the copyright holder’s ability to profit or benefit from their ownership? If you reproduce a paragraph of a book, will people stop purchasing the book?

17 U.S.C. § 107


Fair Use Guidelines

There are no laws governing fair use, only a set of guidelines that many universities, publishers, and authors have privately agreed to.

Within these guidelines are "classroom guidelines" that help schools, professors, and students interpret the doctrine of fair use.

Allowed under Fair Use "Classroom Guidelines":

  • Single copying
  • Multiple copies for classroom use
  • Playing music in the classroom
  • Showing audio-visual works in the classroom.

NOT allowed under Fair Use "Classroom Guidelines":

  • Using illegally created copies
  • Copying workbooks or tests
  • Copying or loading school software or textbook software on your home computer and your office computer


Copyright infringement

Doing any of the following without the owner's permission is considered copyright infringement:

  • Reproduction
  • Republication or redistribution
  • Public performance
  • Public display