Is Your Use Fair?

Whether you are a documentary filmmaker, artist, librarian, scholar, or educator, there are a few questions to ask yourself to determine whether your use of a copyrighted work is a fair use. While it is advisable to consult an attorney, the following questions are a first step to identifying fair uses.

1.  Have you transformed or repurposed the copyrighted work?
    a.  What was the copyrighted work's original purpose?
    b.  What is your purpose?
        i.  Teaching?
        ii.  Scholarship?
        iii.  Critique?
        iv.  Education?
        v.  Commentary?
        vi.  News reporting?
    c.  Is your new purpose different than the original purpose?
    d.  Did you add value to the copyrighted work?
        i.  Reframing?
        ii.  Adding context?
        iii.  Including it in a larger work?
        iv.  New perspective?

2.  How much of the copyrighted work did you use?
    a.  How much does your purpose (answer to Question 1) require that you take of the copyrighted work?
    b.  Did you take no more than you needed?
    c.  There is no magic number.

Generally, if you have a different purpose, add value, and use no more than needed, your use should be a fair use.

Watch Out: Fair uses are a right guaranteed by copyright law, but watch out for signing contracts that restrict your ability to use the work. If you work at a museum and sign a contract that allows you to reproduce a work for archival purposes but restricts your ability to display it publicly, you may not then put the work in a public exhibit and claim fair use. Contracts trump fair use.

Common Courtesy: While fair use does not require you to notify the copyright owner, you may do so. You should also attribute the work to them.

Elizabeth F. Jackson, Legal Counsel, Dance Heritage Coalition

Creative Commons License
Is Your Use is Fair? by Elizabeth F. Jackson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License