Copyright is a form of protection given to authors of creative works like music, movies, books, and photographs. Chances are, if you are using material that you did not create yourself, it's copyrighted. The unauthorized use of copyrighted material is considered infringement — a violation.
For more information on what copyright means to you as a student, see the Penn State Copyright Portal.
Under copyright law, if you don't own the copyright to a work, you cannot do the following without permission from the copyright holder:
- Reproduce copies of the work
- Create derivitive works based on the work
- Distribute copies of the work
- Perform the work publicly
- Display the work publicly
Put simply, fair use is an exception to infringement. It's the use of copyrighted material without the authorization of the owner for an expressive purpose (i.e., quoting information from an article in your research paper). Examples of fair uses include commentary, criticism, or parody.
Before you use copyrighted works, consider the four fundamental factors of fair use and determine whether, on balance, they favor your use more than the author's protection (these factors are from the U.S. Code Title on Copyright):
- What is the character of the use?
How are you using the material? Does it contribute to the educational message/content of your research paper/project?
- What is the nature of the work that you are using?
Is it fact-based or highly expressive?
- How much of the work will you use within your research paper/project?
Are you using only a small portion of the work, e.g., a short video clip or a quote from an article?
- What effect would this use have on the market for the original or for permissions if the use were widespread?
Is the copyrighted work you're using out of print or unavailable? Would your use compete with the original?
Applying the above factors, you can see that many works created for class assignments would fall under fair use. Use the four factors and review them to see how they apply to your specific situation.
Fair Use Summary
- Limited Time
- Limited Material
- Limited Audience
- For Critique, Education, or Satire
- Protects Commercial Value of Work