What is the Fair Use Doctrine?

Posted: October 11th, 2007 under Copyright Law Information, Fair Use Doctrine, Guidelines for Classroom Copying.

IN THE UNITED STATES, the Copyright Act of 1976 provides copyright protection most prominently. Under that federal statute, an author’s original tangible expressions are protected for the author’s life plus 50 years. While the law generally gives exclusive right of reproducing the work to the copyright holder, Congress has provided an exception to this restriction – the Fair Use Doctrine, which allows limited circumstances under which a copyrighted work may be reproduced without the copyright holder’s express permission.

Under the Fair Use Doctrine, all of the following four factors must be considered together when determining whether or not a copyrighted work may be reproduced without permission from the copyright holder:

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. The nature of the copyrighted work;

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion to be reproduced in relation to the work as a whole; and

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

Teachers often point to the Fair Use Doctrine as authority for reproducing a copyrighted work. Contrary to this popular misconception, however, is the fact that a work used for educational purposes does not automatically justify its wholesale reproduction to the degree that the copyright is infringed.

The Fair Use Doctrine’s four-step test presents a trait found in many acts of Congress in that it is somewhat vague.

In an effort to cure the vagueness, a consortium comprised of the Ad Hoc Committee on Copyright Law Revision, the Authors League of America and the Association of American Publishers, Inc. in 1976 issued Guidelines for Classroom Copying of Books and Periodicals.

The guidelines provide conditions allowing an instructor to copy without permission any of the following for scholarly research, or for use in teaching – or preparing to teach – a class: a chapter from a book; an article from a periodical or newspaper; a short story, short essay or short poem, whether or not from a collective work; and a chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture from a book, periodical, or newspaper.

An instructor may – without first obtaining permission from the copyright holder – make multiple copies (not to exceed more than one copy per pupil in a course) for classroom use or discussion only, however, if the copying meets the guidelines’ tests of brevity, spontaneity and cumulative effect, and if each copy includes a notice of copyright.



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