Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines

Can I use a photo I found on this web site? This is a question that continually comes up when Creative Group staff  is asked to approve or create supporting materials for library programs and services. We talk about copyright, but we really need to focus on the fair use exceptions and limitations on the copyright holder’s exclusive rights. Unfortunately, there are not a concrete set of rules, and there are no set guidelines.

I have found a good worksheet from: and and  I think it may be helpful when trying to decide if the image or copy you are wanting to use falls under fair use.

 Factors to Consider Possible Fair Use Probably Need Permission
Purpose and Character of Work Noncommercial, Educational, Scholarly, Newsworthy Commercial, Entertainment
Nature of the Work Factual, Based on Public Documents Creative
Degree of Use Small Portion of  Work Copied Entire Work copied
Portion Used
Compared to Length of Work
Small % used Large % used
Exposure Single Use, Small Audience Multiple Use, Large Public Audience
Premeditation Spontaneous Systematic, Continuing
Honesty of Use Good Faith, Credit to Owner Deception, Dishonesty

1. Purpose and character: If your use is for teaching at a nonprofit educational institution, this is a factor
favoring fair use. The scale tips further in favor of fair use if access is restricted to your students.

2. Nature of copyrighted work: Is the work factbased, published, or out-of-print? These factors
weigh in favor of fair use.

3. Amount used: Using a small portion of a whole work would weigh toward fairness. But sometimes
it may be fair to use an entire work (such as an image) if it is needed for your instructional purpose.

4. Market effect: A use is more likely to be fair if it does not harm the potential market for or value of
the copyrighted work. But if it does, this could weigh more heavily against fair use than the other factors.

Consider each of these factors, but all of them do not have to be favorable to make your use a fair one. When
the factors in the aggregate weigh toward fairness, your use is better justified. When the factors tip the scales in the other direction, your need to obtain permission from the copyright holder increases. Don’t worry that the answer isn’t crystal clear. Just decide whether the factors weigh enough toward fairnessso that you are comfortable not seeking permission.

Some suggest reliance on the “golden rule” — if you were the copyright holder, would you see the use as fair and not expect to be asked for permission?

Additional reference information can be found on the L drive: sharing folder/communications&marketing/copyright information.  Please let me know if you have other information that will help guide us.


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