37 Fair Use

Fair Use

Image by the Association for Research Libraries.

What about photos of copyrighted items?

If you take a photograph of a copyrighted item, this can sometimes count as reproducing the item and is a violation of copyright. However, there are some cases when it is okay – read this document from the World Intellectual Property Organization to learn more.

What is “Fair Use”?

According the U.S. Copyright Office’s factsheet on Fair Use, the rights of copyright owners are subject to limitations. One of the more important limitations is the doctrine of “Fair Use.”

The doctrine of Fair Use allows users of copyrighted works to reproduce and reuse copyrighted works in ways that are considered fair–such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

The Four Factors

Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law provides four factors to consider when considering whether the use of copyrighted works is a fair one:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work (e.g., whether it is factual or creative in nature)
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Tools to Determine Fair Use

Fair Use Examples

Images from the Association for Research Libraries.

One important note…

The U.S. Copyright Office’s factsheet on “Fair Use” notes that

The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines or notes that may safely be taken without permission. [Emphasis added] Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.


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Library and Information Studies Copyright © by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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