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!


President Obama Nominates Dr. Carla Hayden for Librarian of Congress

Breaking news for Fair Use Week! President Obama just announced his nomination for Librarian of Congress: Dr. Carla Hayden.

If confirmed, Dr. Hayden will have a lot of “firsts” under her belt. She’ll be the first woman, first African-American, the first to enter the office with a 10-year term limit, and  the first to enter the office knowing that most work is produced, shared, and stored, digitally.  This is important because the duties of the Librarian of Congress include determining if a work is subject to DMCA prohibitions regarding technological access protection and also makes decisions related to the Fair Use of digital works.

Translation: the right to jailbreak your iPhone, remove DRM from old technology, digitize old videos, etc. are part of the Librarian of Congress’s duties.

President Obama’s introduction to Dr. Hayden was posted today on the White House blog.


Fair Use Week: Learning How Fair Use Works

One of the toughest aspects of fair use is determining how it should be applied to a situation at hand.  One of the ways legal scholars do this is to take a look at past cases (precedent) and extrapolate from those examples to the current situation. Back in May, Kevin Smith, J.D. reviewed a new tool from the U.S. Copyright office called the “Fair Use Index“, which provides about 170 such cases.  According to the site itself, “The goal of the Index is to make the principles and application of fair use more accessible and understandable to the public by presenting a searchable database of court opinions, including by category and type of use (e.g., music, internet/digitization, parody).” I’ll let Kevin Smith walk you through the rest.
Learning How Fair Use Works:

Happy Fair Use Week 2016

Today marks the first day of Fair Use Week 2016! 

What is Fair Use Week? 

Fair Use week is organized by ARL (Association of Research Libraries) and is an annual celebration of the important doctrines of fair use and fair dealing. It is designed to highlight and promote the opportunities presented by fair use and fair dealing, celebrate stories, and explain these doctrines. (

Perhaps a better place to start…

What is Fair Use? 

Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use. (

Give me an example from my life 


Celebrate with us! 

Librarians love fair use. It gives us an opportunity to say “yes” to teachers and researchers when they ask about using material in classes or research articles. Throughout this week, a variety of Iowa State librarians will be contributing to our blog to further explore fair use. These postings may reflect on their own experiences using fair use–or they may share their favorite fair use conversations. Stay tuned to this blog all week for more!