Four Factors of Fair Use

Do You Know What's "Fair" Game?

Created by Karen Suarez

What is Copyright?

Did you know that you own any poem, story, drawing, artwork, or piece of music you’ve ever created? It doesn't matter if you are an adult, a professional, or a student in class. This ownership is called “copyright.” Copyright is a type of protection given to the creators of original work. This “original work” could be in different fields: literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic. And did you know as the owner of that work, you have rights about what to do with it? Your rights let you do any of the following or can prevent others from doing the following:


  • Make copies of your work
  • Distribute copies of your work
  • Perform your work in public
  • Disply your work in public
  • Make changes to your work


However, your rights as the copyright owner are not unlimited. There are limitations on these rights so that your work can be shared, enjoyed, and even used for educational purposes. One such limitation is called “Fair Use.” This policy allows for people to use your copyrighted work without your permission…but don't worry about people unfairly stealing your work. There are four factors that must be met before your work can be considered “fair” game.

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Purpose and Character of Use

This first item looks at how a person is going to use your copyrighted work. Do they plan to use it for commercial reasons, or maybe it's for nonprofit educational purposes? With this factor, a person would be considered acting within Fair Use guidelines if they use your work for criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, and scholarly work/research.
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Nature of the copyrighted work

This second item looks at concept of your work. Is it very creative, like an original story or poem, or is it more factual, like an article written for a newspaper? The more factual and less creative the work, the more likely outside use of your work will be accepted under the Fair Use guidelines.
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Amount of the portion used

This third item looks at how much of your original work someone wants to use without asking your permission. When looking at the work as a whole, how much should a person be allowed to use? Fair Use guidelines are more favorable when small amounts of copyright-protected material is used. There are no specific, law-based amounts that have been established; it really depends on the type of work.
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Effect upon potential market

This final item looks at the potential effect the outside use of your work could have on the market. In other words, is the value of your work going to be effected if someone uses it without your permission? Fair Use guidelines support this use if its effect will have a negligible effect on your money-making potential. If you stand to lose money by someone else using your work, it does not fall under Fair Use guidelines.