Stones balanced on a pointed rock against a background of the sea.

Piled rocks represent the concept of harmony and balance

As instructors and course designers within a non-profit university, we know the importance of academic Fair Use and feel protected by it when including copyrighted work within our courses. If you’ve added the citation, you’re ready to go, right? Not really. Fair Use is not all inclusive, and understanding its parameters is important. From Title 17, Section 107 of this law states:

“In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

  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.”( source )

What does this mean exactly? Academic Fair Use is the right to use portions of copyrighted work for educational purposes without permission. It’s specific enough and when followed, won’t invite legal action. However that said, for some copyright protected work, you’ll still need permission. You might show excerpts from a film for example, for commentary or even parody, but using the whole film would invite greater risk.

To be sure you’re using copyrighted work correctly, visit USF’s guide to Using Copyrighted Works in the Classroom. USF’s scholarly communication librarian, Charlotte Roh, recommends using one of the four tools provided there to determine whether you can use a particular copyrighted work or not.

The site points out that it does “not provide legal advice, simply education and guidance. The tools use the information you provide it as well as your own judgement on the fairness of use.” You might also want to reference Stanford’s set of guidelines for what and how much under the section Rules for Reproducing Text Materials for Use in Class. At USF, if you found these materials in our library, USF has already negotiated permission for you to use it in your class.

Academic Fair Use is a flexible law—and allows for great authenticity in course materials—but it’s also one that can’t be taken for granted.



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