Skip to main content

Art History Resources: Fair Use and Copyright

Fair Use In the Visual Arts

Fair Use in Academia

The Fair Use Doctrine is probably the most important exemption to copyright protections for educational settings, allowing many uses of copyrighted works for the purposes of teaching and research. The complexity of fair use often make it difficult to make judgements concerning fair use.

Review these Common Scenarios to help you determine whether or not fair use is appropriate.

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a concept in U.S. law that recognizes that certain uses of copyright-protected works do not require permission from the copyright holder. (See Title 17, section 107)

In general, it is safe to say that images used in a classroom presentation, for a scholarly lecture, or in an unpublished assigned paper, fall under the concept of Fair Use.  Fair use is an exception to copyright. There are a number of scenarios that may be considered fair use, but for our purposes, the important one is that the images are being used for non-profit, educational purposes. It's a tricky situation and the law is far from clear on any of this, but you should be on safe ground if you limit your use to the situations described above. For further information, consult the United States Copyright Office document on Fair Use.

What Determines Fair Use?

The following four factors are used to determine if a use is fair:

  1. The purpose of the use (eg. commercial vs. educational)*
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount of the material used (the greater the amount copied, the less likely it is fair use)
  4. The effect of use on the potential market for or value of the work

* Not all uses in an academic context are automatically considered fair use!

Tools to help you Determine Fair Use

  • Fair Use Checklist:  "Based on the four factors of fair use—purpose, nature, amount and effect—the checklist was created to help educators, librarians and others evaluate content uses to determine if fair use applies."
  • Fair Use Evaluator: helps users collect, organize, and document the information they may need to support a fair use claim, and  provides a time-stamped PDF document for the users’ records. Developed by the American Library Association, Office for Information Technology Policy.


UCC LibGuides at Union County College