Figuring Out Fair Use with the Libraries

By April Hathcock | Updated March 28, 2022

As NYU faculty work through the summer to prepare their course materials for the fall semester, it is important to keep in mind the ways in which fair use can be used to provide research materials to students. Fair use is a powerful tool for making copyrighted material available to students for learning and research, and NYU Libraries’ staff can help researchers make the most of this tool.

All original works of authorship (writings, films, images, cartoons—anything “fixed in any tangible medium of expression”) are protected by copyright. Fair use is an exception to those protections. With fair use, the public is able to make use of a copyrighted work for limited purposes, including for teaching and scholarship, without having to seek the permission of the copyright owner. Section 107 of the U.S. Code describes the four factors that must be considered when determining whether a use is a fair use:

  1. The purpose and character of the use – What is the work being used for?
  2. Nature of the work – What kind of work is being used?
  3. Amount and substantiality of the use – How much is being used and how widely is it being made available?
  4. Potential market effect of use – How much would the use affect the owner’s revenue?

All of the factors should be considered together and balanced according to the circumstances of the work and the potential use. For example, it would likely be a fair use to post a PDF of a single chapter of a book behind the password protection of NYU Classes for student access. On the other hand, it may not be a fair use to post a PDF of an entire book onto the open web for the same purpose.

The NYU Policy Statement for Educational and Research Uses of Copyrighted Materials provides official university-wide guidelines for applying fair use to the preparation of course materials. In addition, the Libraries offer a useful research guide on Copyright Basics in general and Applying Fair Use in particular, to assist faculty in navigating fair use when selecting and distributing course materials, either in print or digitally via NYU Classes.

For additional specific questions about applying fair use, faculty and scholars can email

The Library’s Fair Use website

The Library’s Fair Use website

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