A Resource For Understanding Federal Copyright As It Applies to the Internet

Limitations on Copyrights

The Fair Use Exception

The "fair use" exception gives individuals the rights to copy, distribute, and use individual works of authorship for academic purposes, such as teaching, scholarship, or research, for news reporting, or for criticism. [1] Even if, however, such use is made of these copyrighted works, such use may not necessarily be fair. to determine whether 'fair use" exists, it is necessary to consider four factors, developed in common law and codified in the 1976 Copyright Act:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. [2]

In litigation, however, the fair use exception is generally construed narrowly. It requires that the use be for nonprofit purposes, have limited effect on the market sale of the product, use only small portions of the work, and not use the "heart" or the quantitatively most significant aspects of a work [3]

More Information

Only particular forms of expression may be copyrighted, not methods, layouts, ideas or concepts.

Copyright protection extends for only a set time period. After a copyright expires, the author's ownership rights are transferred to the general public.


1.See The Copyright Website. Available at <<http://http://www.benedict.com/info/fairUse/fairUse.asp>> Last accessed, November 25,2002.

2.See Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 107.

3. See Copylaw and New Technologies. Available at <<http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr280c.shtml>> Last accessed, November 25, 2002


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