Copyright for the Fine & Performing Arts: What is Fair Use?

This guide gives faculty and students--as practitioners of the arts--a working knowledge of their rights and responsibilities when it comes to copyright, and the fair use of copyrighted materials and others' works of art.

Fair Use Defined

"The fair use of a copyrighted work..., for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright." [Title 17, U. S. Code] section 107 sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  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
  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

The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

Media Education Lab

The Media Education Lab's website and published materials "explain how copyright and fair use apply to digital learning." You can use them to "become an advocate for copyright and fair use."

Transformative Works

"Transformative use" is a term describing some instances of fair use, often referring to the use of a copyrighted item in a manner not originally intented by the copyright holder. Below are some examples of such "transformative use":

Parody and Commentary

In recent court cases, judges have ruled parody is fair use when the use of a copyrighted work commented on the original work or work's author. Conversely, judges ruled parody was not fair use when the copyrighted work was used to comment on an unrelated subject.

Head of Fine Arts & Architecture Library

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Greg Hatch
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