Skip to Main Content

Licensing through the Creative Commons

Fair Use: The Four Factors

Fair Use: Sample Q&A

Most of the answers to Fair Use inquiries begin with, “It depends.”  You have to weigh the FOUR FACTORS in order to decide if a use of copyright protected material is fair.  If in doubt, discuss the situation with someone who is familiar with copyright and Fair Use, say, a librarian.

Q: Can I use a 10-second clip of Frozen in my summer research presentation?

A: It depends. Educational or scholarly use weighs in favor of fair use. The brevity of the clip is another factor in favor of fair use, but if those 10 seconds are the heart of the video, it could weigh against Fair Use. What about the 3rd and 4 th factors? How would you judge this use when thinking of those factors?

Q: Can I use a Rachael Ray recipe in my food blog?

A: It depends.  The U.S. Copyright Office says, “Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients.” But what about the instructions for preparing the ingredients?  Are you simply reproducing Rachael Ray's original creative content exactly, or are you substantively transforming her recipe into something original of your own?  Are you using the recipe in an educational or scholarly setting?

Q: Can I project “Formation” by Beyonce at Momentum while my crew dances?

A: It depends.  In a face-to- face teaching situation, a video or film can be shown (unless there is a licensing restriction saying otherwise). This setting is different.  It would probably be considered a "public performance" of the work, outside of a classroom setting, and this is very problematic.  Usually the payment of a license is required for this.  But what about the amount?  “Formation” is only a small part of the whole Lemonade video.  This can lean in favor of Fair Use.  What about the nature of the video?  Is it creative or factual? And will if affect the potential market for the video?  What if you’re just projecting the YouTube version?  If it’s posted there, wouldn’t that mean someone has decided it’s OK to use in public?

Q: Can the Joss Whedon Fan Club show Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the Coates Center? 

A: This is definitely not a Fair Use of copyrighted material.  It constitutes a public performance, and unless you have bought or otherwise obtained public performance rights, you cannot hold a public viewing.