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Four Factors of Fair Use

Four factors are considered in all fair use evaluations. They are:

  1. Purpose & character of the use
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work
  3. Amount and substantiality of the portion taken
  4. Effect of the use on the potential market

These four factors are not meant to be exclusive and must be examined together. 

The statute does not indicate how much weight is to be accorded each factor. Historically the courts have placed the most emphasis on effect, while the nature of the copyrighted work is usually considered to be the least important factor.

For help in making a fair use evaluation, please see our Fair Use Evaluator Tool  and the Columbia University Fair Use Checklist (below).


What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a concept embedded in U.S. law that recognizes that certain uses of copyright-protected works do not require permission from the copyright holder or its agent.

The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute their work. One exception to this exclusive right is called fair useThese include instances of minimal use that do not interfere with the copyright holder's exclusive rights to reproduce and reuse the work.

Fair use permits the reproduction of a small portion of a copyrighted work without the copyright owner's permission, but only under very limited circumstances.

A Fair(y) Use Tale

"Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University provides this humorous, yet informative, review of copyright principle."

Center for Media & Social Impact

The Center for Media & Social Impact has an excellent resource called Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education that educators can use when incorporating media into their teaching


Xavier University's Fair Use Guidelines For Digital Images provides useful information for assessing fair use of digital images

Why is it Important?

Fair use is a vitally important exception for education, as it enables students, scholars, and critics to use and reference copyrighted works in their own scholarship, teaching, and critiques.

Fair Use Evaluator

Fair Use Checklist

Columbia University Fair Use Checklist

The Fair Use Checklist and variations on it have been widely used for many years to help educators, librarians, lawyers, and many other users of copyrighted works determine whether their activities are within the limits of fair use under U.S. copyright law (Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act). The four factors form the structure of this checklist.  Congress and courts have offered some insight into the specific meaning of the factors, and those interpretations are reflected in the details of this form.