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Copyright and Fair Use

This guide contains information and resources on copyright and fair use for Oxford College faculty and students.

Fair Use

Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976 introduces the concept of "fair use" of a copyrighted work:

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

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

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

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

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Four Factors of Fair Use

In order to determine whether or not the use of a copyrighted item falls under the doctrine of fair use, consider the following factors:

  • Purpose: What is the purpose of the work? Educational use related to a course? Transformative use that alters the work into something new?
  • Nature: What is the nature of the work? Nonfiction? Fiction? Out-of-print?
  • Amount: What amount of the work do you intend to use? While no exact measure of quantity exists in the law, copyright an entire work is generally not acceptable. 
  • Effect: What effect will the use of the work have on the market or its value?