Is it Fair Use? Tools to Help You Decide

We’re well into Fair Use Week and you may be wondering how you can know when a use would be considered fair. Here is an overview of several of the copyright and fair use tools created by the library community for just this purpose.


One of the first things to do is figure out if the material in question is still protected by copyright. This handy copyright slider from Michael Brewer and the ALA Office for Intellectual Technology Policy (caveat: last updated in 2012) can be used to determine if something is, or might still be, protected by copyright.


This slider can be used in conjunction with the Stanford Copyright Renewal Database to search copyrights renewed between 1950 and 1992.

Fair Use

If the work is still protected by copyright, you may still be able to use it without licensing for certain kinds of uses.

Fair Use hinges on four factors:

  1. Purpose and character of the use
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the work used
  4. The effect on the market

There is no one comprehensive list available that will tell you if the use you are planning for a given work is fair. What you can use instead are the following tools that will help you decide for yourself if the use you are planning would be considered fair, keeping in mind the four factors above.

Fair Use Checklist link

Columbia University’s Fair Use Checklist is a good place to start. The checklist has sections for each of the four factors, with each factor divided into “favoring fair use” and “opposing fair use.” Upon completion of the checklist, you’ll have a better understanding of how your proposed use may be in line with fair use, or in opposition.


Another useful tool is the “Fair Use Evaluator.” This tool has you describe and assign a fairness rating to your planned use in each of the four areas, along with space for additional factors and a project description. The end result is a time-stamped record of your fair use evaluation. You can save the PDF as a record of your analysis and the data you used to support it should your use be challenged later on.

Fair Use for Teaching

Teaching has an additional option for fair use under the TEACH Act.

Exceptions for Instructors ToolThe Exceptions for Instructors tool will help you think about whether or not your proposed use might be fair in an educational context.

More copyright and fair use tools can be found at the American Library Association’s Copyright Tools page and Stanford University Libraries’ Copyright and Fair Use Center. While librarians and archivists can’t give you legal advice, we are more than happy to help you find the tools that can help you decide for yourself!