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Copyright at American University

This guide is to provide a basic understanding of copyright laws including important exemptions that apply to the American University community.


Fair Use is probably the most confusing part of the copyright law due to it's lack of clear quantified guidelines. It's a concept in U.S. copyright law that recognizes that some uses of copyright-protected works do not require permission from the copyright holder.

As quoted from the law (see Title 7, Section 107):

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106 A (on the exclusive rights of copyright owners), 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The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

There has been much written on Fair Use and it's recommended that you follow the links provided on the left column to develop a better understanding of the factors.

Additionally the AU's Center for Media and Social Impact has published several Best Practices in Fair Use reports that will be helpful when considering specific situations.

Useful links

Section 107 Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use  full text

Copyright and Fair Use: Common Scenarios NYU Libraries

Educator video: Copyright and Fair Use animation

Fair Use Evaluator a tool created by Michael Brewer for the American Library Association. This site guides the user through each of the four factors considered in Fair Use evaluations and creates a time-stamped PDF document for your records. 

Summaries of Fair Use cases  Stanford University

Thinking Through Fair Use an analysis tool from University of Minnesota

Fair Use and YouTube mashups and remixes - Appropriation of copyrighted footage and images for reuse on YouTube and social media is widespread. Here are some educational tools to inform creators about responsible fair use of copyrighted content in online videos and memes. Copy This podcast; YouTube statement on Fair Use; New Media Rights webpage; Everything is a Remix: Fair Use (video)