It’s Fair Use Week (@FairUseWeek)

This week, February 20-24, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of #FairUseWeek. Fair use and fair dealing are essential concepts for students and educators to appreciate. Patent, trademark, and copyright laws protect intellectual property. If we were to prohibit the use of all intellectual property, there would be limited inventions, innovations, creativity, and scholarship.

So, how can you determine when you can legally use someone’s work without permission? Four factors should be considered when deciding whether fair use applies, as illustrated in the accompanying graphic.

Have you ever searched for an image using Google? In that case, you may have noticed that each image displayed is accompanied by a statement, “Images may be subject to copyright.” Click on “Learn More,” and Google takes you to a support page offering legal answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about copyright and fair use.

If you need clarification on whether using someone else’s work is permissible, ask how honest, fair-minded persons would handle the situation. Would reasonable persons agree with your approach? If not, here are a few guidelines to follow:

    • Consider whether you can pare a long quote and still be able to make your point in class.
    • Consider whether your use might have an impact on the interests of the copyright holder? For example, should you copy your entire textbook and share it with another student, or consider another route?
    • Fully acknowledge all sources. This is why its important to learn how to cite references correctly.

What is “fair use”?

As the Fair Use Week website reminds us: “Fair use and fair dealing are essential limitations and exceptions to copyright, allowing the use of copyrighted materials without permission from the copyright holder under certain circumstances.” These flexible doctrines allow “copyright to adapt to new technologies,” facilitating a balance in “copyright law, promoting further progress and accommodating freedom of speech and expression.”

Fair use allows students to quote portions of the work of others in their essays and term papers, instructors to play excerpts of videos in the classroom, and journalists to use snippets in news reports. The concept protects free speech while fulfilling one of the purposes of copyright: to promote creative expression.

To gain a better understanding of fair use as the term is applied in copyright law, and what fair use contributes to the economy, innovation, and creativity, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) created an infographic, Fair Use Fundamentals.

Celebrations this week

Celebrations designed to highlight and promote the opportunities presented by fair use and fair dealing, celebrate successful stories, and explain these doctrines are abundant. For example, on Thursday, February 23, you could choose to spend your lunch hour (well, 1,5 hours, from 12:00-1:30) attending the online/virtual event followed by a panel discussion sponsored by the Metropolitan New York Library Council and Library Futures, Why does copyright and fair use matter for libraries and librarians?

More on fair use

The Copyright Alliance has a series of short videos on its Trending Topics subsite about the fair use doctrine, the four fair use factors, common fair use mistakes, and how to apply fair use today. The webpage concludes with a set of links to fair use blogs + six cases that explore the bounds of fair use.

Many library associations and academic libraries feature LibGuides on copyright and fair use. Examples of these include:

NOVA Librarian Julie Combs manages a research guide on copyright and fair use to remind faculty about the importance of observing copyright law and understanding how the four factors of fair use might apply to their teaching and any research they conduct.

Test your knowledge

How much do you know about the Fair Use Doctrine? Test your knowledge at the University of Colorado Boulder Library by reviewing two examples of fair use or its interactive quiz, “Is it Fair Use? It Depends!”

Oregon State University’s Copyright and Fair Use resource guide includes a worksheet to help you decide if your use of someone’s copyrighted work is “fair use.”