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Copyright for Students: Copyright Basics

Basic information about U.S.C. Title 17 Copyright Law particularly as it relates to higher education.

Fair Use Checklist

Fair Use Law Explained

Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use.  Section 107 calls for consideration of the following four factors in evaluating a question of fair use:

  • (1) Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes:  Courts look at how the party claiming fair use is using the copyrighted work, and are more likely to find that nonprofit educational and noncommercial uses are fair.  This does not mean, however, that all nonprofit education and noncommercial uses are fair and all commercial uses are not fair; instead, courts will balance the purpose and character of the use against the other factors below.  Additionally, “transformative” uses are more likely to be considered fair as they "lie at the heart of the fair use doctrine".  Transformative uses are those that add "something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message, rather than merely superseding the original work" or expands the utility of the original work.*  Transformative use is not a substitute for the original use of the work and merely repackaging or republishing the original is not likely to be deemed a fair use.
  • (2) Nature of the copyrighted work:  This factor analyzes the degree to which the work that was used relates to copyright’s purpose of encouraging creative expression. Thus, using a more creative or imaginative work (such as a novel, movie, or song) is less likely to support a claim of a fair use than using a factual work (such as a technical article or news item). In addition, use of an unpublished work is less likely to be considered fair.
  • (3) Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole:  Under this factor, courts look at both the quantity and quality of the copyrighted material that was used. If the use includes a large portion of the copyrighted work, fair use is less likely to be found; if the use employs only a small amount of copyrighted material, fair use is more likely. That said, some courts have found use of an entire work to be fair under certain circumstances. And in other contexts, using even a small amount of a copyrighted work was determined not to be fair because the selection was an important part—or the “heart”—of the work.
  • (4) Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work:  Here, courts review whether, and to what extent, the unlicensed use harms the existing or future market for the copyright owner’s original work. In assessing this factor, courts consider whether the use is hurting the current market for the original work (for example, by displacing sales of the original) and/or whether the use could cause substantial harm if it were to become widespread.

In addition to the above, other factors may also be considered by a court in weighing a fair use question, depending upon the circumstances. Courts evaluate fair use claims on a case-by-case basis, and the outcome of any given case depends on a fact-specific inquiry. This means that there is no formula to ensure that a predetermined percentage or amount of a work—or specific number of words, lines, pages, copies—may be used without permission.  


Please note that the Copyright Office is unable to provide specific legal advice to individual members of the public about questions of fair use.  See 37 C.F.R. 201.2(a)(3).

*Capitol Recs., LLC v. ReDigi Inc., 910 F.3d 649, 660 (2d Cir. 2018); TVEyes, 883 F.3d at 176.



Images are not a special case. Everything on the internet should be presumed to be fully protected by copyright law - including images - unless it specifically states otherwise.  There are many images that are freely available to use with or without attribution through public domain or Creative Commons licenses but they are not necessarily easy to find. Sites like PexelsPixabay, and MorgueFile are good sources of images that do not need attribution. The Wikimedia Commons has a mix of images that do and do not require attribution. If you use Google Image Search, make sure to filter by usage rights and select "non-commercial reuse."

Taken From IUPUI Center for Teaching & Learning

Last updated September 2023.

TMU Copyright Policy: Student Use

Student Use of Copyrighted Materials for Course Projects

The copyright law does not specifically address student use of copyrighted works. However, the Fair Use Exemption (17 USC § 107) as well as the Education Exemption (17 USC § 110(2); 112(f) do provide considerable latitude for use of copyrighted material within the classroom (traditional or distance learning) and in course related assignments. 

If the copyrighted materials incorporated into course assignments qualifies for use under these exemptions ((17 USC § 107; 110(2); 112(f)), the resulting paper or product may be submitted to the teacher for a grade and may be shown to the other students enrolled in the course, including distance learning transmission over the institution's secure electronic network as well as for after-class review or directed self-study.

The paper or product will remain the property of the student. It may be used in their own portfolios as examples of their academic work or for later personal uses such as job and graduate school interviews. It may not be shown, transmitted, or broadcast outside the institution and no copies may be sold or given away.

Students who wish to make copies beyond these narrow constraints, or who wish to make additional uses of their student projects, must get permission for all elements used.

Students should also be familiar with TMU’s Media Ethics Policy and the TMU IT Student Network Use Policy. These are also available on The Master’s University Web site - Student Resources - IT Services - Student Help Documents -- Policies.

Students who fail to comply with TMU’s intellectual property policies will face appropriate disciplinary action which may include expulsion.

Students will find additional information about copyright in the Copyright for Higher Education Research Guide on the Library’s Web site under Research Guides.


Last updated November 2023.

Institutional Copyright Specialist

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Janet "Miss T." Tillman
Robert L. Powell Library
The Master's University
21726 Placerita Canyon. Rd.
Santa Clarita, CA 91321