United States copyright law recognizes that there are certain uses of copyrighted works that benefit society without causing undue harm to copyright holders. These kinds of uses are allowed under the doctrine of fair use, which means they do not require permission from the copyright holder.
Some examples of fair use listed in copyright law include criticism, commentary, parody, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. However, not all uses made for these purposes will automatically be fair. Instead, copyright law provides a framework to determine what uses should be considered fair. This means that fair use must always be considered on a case by case basis.
The fair use framework is purposefully vague so that it can remain flexible as technologies and types of uses change over time. However, this can make it more difficult to decide whether or not your use falls under fair use. In order to make this decision, you must analyze the particular details of your situation and proposed use.
Everyone is free to make fair uses of copyrighted works, but copyright owners can disagree on what qualifies as fair use and assert that uses are copyright infringement. This means that those who want to exercise their fair use right should consider their use under the framework provided by copyright law and weigh the risks involved in certain uses.
For examples of cases that courts have decided as either fair use or not fair use (copyright infringement), see:
Face-to-face instruction exceptions (17 U.S. Code § 110(1)) allow the performance and display of copyrighted works without permission when all of the following requirements are met:
This exception does not apply to making or distributing copies of copyrighted works. When making or distributing copies, instructors must rely on fair use or seek permission from copyright holders.
The public domain is made up of all works that are not eligible for copyright protection, which includes most works created by the United States government, as well as works that no longer have copyright protection. All works in the public domain are free to be copied and used without restriction. Works published in the United States prior to 1923 are in the public domain.
Digital images may be used by educators, scholars, and students for:
Digital images generally may not be used for: