Exemptions for Fair Use of Copyrighted Works

The fair use doctrine limits a copyright holder's rights. The U.S. Copyright Act gives copyright holders the right to sue others who are using or reproducing their copyrighted works without permission. The fair use exemption allows others to copy or display copyrighted work without the holder's permission in certain circumstances. If the use falls under the fair use doctrine, the copyright holder will not be entitled to damages for copyright violations.

Fair Use Standards

No specific test determines when the use of a copyrighted work falls under the fair use exemption. Copyright law offers four standards for courts to use as guidelines. Courts consider why and how the party used the copyrighted work, the type of work it is, the amount of the copyrighted work that was used and the effect on the work's commercial or market value. A court will also consider whether the use was solely for educational purposes or just for financial gain when deciding if a fair use exemption applies. Use of a copyrighted work for teaching, research, academic study or academic achievement may qualify for a fair use exemption under the U.S. Copyright Act.


A library qualifies for fair use exemption if the copyrighted works aren't used for profit and its collection is open to the public or researchers. All copyrighted works must have a notice of the copyright; libraries must add a notice to works that don't have a copyright notice. Libraries may make one copy of a copyrighted work for a single user and charge fees for the cost of the copy. A library that's part of an educational facility may make more than one copy of a copyrighted work for classroom or educational use under the fair use exemption. It may make three copies of a copyrighted work for preservation purposes whether the work was published or not.


Nonprofit educational facilities, including elementary schools, high schools and colleges, qualify for a fair use exemption. These facilities may make multiple copies of copyrighted works for use in the classroom. Copyright laws don't place restrictions on the number of copies an educational facility may make under the fair use exemption. An advisory committee released a set of guidelines regarding the use of copyrighted material in a classroom that limit copies based on the size of the work, the number of students and reason for the copies. The guidelines also restrict a teacher to copying the same material for only one term.

Fair Use in News and Parody

The fair use exemption applies to copyrighted material used in news, commentary and criticism, according to the U.S. Copyright Act. The court looks at the individual facts of the case to determine whether the use was proper as commentary, news or criticism when deciding a fair use case. A parody is usually covered under the fair use exemption, but courts may impose restrictions. For example, a parody artist only taking a few words or a small bit of a melody from a preexisting song may qualify for a fair use exemption. But the court may not grant a fair use exemption to an artist using substantial portions of an existing song, according to the Stanford University Law Libraries.

Read More: Can I Record Someone Else's Song and Change the Words in Parody Law?

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