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“Fair Use” is your best friend!

If you are uploading material for your students to study, or preparing slides for the next conference presentation; if you are in the middle of writing your thesis, or finishing a manuscript for a research article; if you working on a new website, or tweeting about the latest discovery in your field – often you want to include material that has been created by someone else.

U.S. Copyright Law protects “… original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression …” This can be a book, a journal article, a music recording, a photograph, website content, a slide deck, or a blockbuster movie, just to name a few. The copyright holder owns the exclusive right to copy, distribute, perform, or display her work.

But because the Copyright Law is designed “to promote the progress of science and useful arts”, a Fair Use clause has been included, which allows the use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright owner under certain circumstances. When intending to use copyrighted material under the Fair Use clause, you need to consider these “Four Factors” that determine whether that use is fair:

  1. The purpose and character of the use;
  2. The nature of the work;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used;
  4. The effect of the use on the potential market.

Balancing and weighing the Four Factors is helpful in making a decision about the inclusion of copyrighted material in your own work. If you apply Fair Use reasonably, limit to the amount of material you need, and of course acknowledge the creator of the material, you may find out that this short piece of legislation is a powerful tool for your research, teaching, or writing. You may even call it “my best friend.”

For more details about Fair Use, see the UC Copyright website, or contact the library’s Scholarly Communications Officer, Michael Ladisch (


Open Access and Scholarly Publishing