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Copyright at UCSF: Fair Use

Information on copyright, publishing, and intellectual property.

Fair Use in Brief

The current copyright law  gives the owner of a copyright the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute their work. One exception to this exclusive right is called "the fair use exception." The fair use exception within the copyright law allows for limited use, for limited purposes, of copyrighted works, without the permission of the copyright holder.

The fair use exception permits the reproduction of a small portion of a copyrighted work without the copyright owner's permission, but only under very limited circumstances.

The purpose is to allow students, scholars, and critics the right to reference a copyrighted work in their own scholarship, teaching, and critiques.

Four Factors of Fair Use

Four Factors of Fair Use

When considering whether use of copyrighted material falls under the fair use exception, you must weigh these four factors:

  1. The purpose and character of the use
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the work
  4. The effect of the use on the potential market for or the value of the work

In order to weigh these factors and determine whether you need permissions to use a copyrighted work, use the UCSF Fair Use checklist.

Fair Use Checklists

The University of California's UC Copyright website provides additional information on fair use. Below are some fair use checklists that you can use to conduct a risk analysis weighing these four factors.

Fair Use FAQ for Faculty

Q. Could I incur personal liability for violating copyright laws?

A. Yes. Failure to follow University policy may mean the University will not defend the employee named in the court suit and personal liability may be incurred.

Q. If I published a paper and the publisher holds the copyright, may I post it to my CLE course?

A. No. Unless the faculty member reserved the right to do so in the contract with the publisher, or has received written permission from the publisher to post the paper, the faculty member can not host the content on the CLE. This does not apply to linking to Open Access journal articles or linking to articles owned by the library.

Q. Are my class notes, drafts of papers, etc. covered by copyright law?

A. Yes. Copyright arises the moment the original expression of the author becomes fixed in a tangible medium. Therefore faculty class notes, drafts of papers, etc, are copyrighted the moment they are written, even though the © symbol may not be present.

Q. What are some examples of faculty non-compliance with copyright law?

A. Example 1: Downloading copyright protected images (for example anatomy images) off the internet and hosting them to your CLE page without obtaining permissions or conducting a fair use analysis.

Example 2: Purchasing the chemical makeup chart of a copyrighted drug and uploading it to your CLE page for distribution. This is because you have only purchased individual rights and not the right to redistribute the content.

Example 3: Reusing previously hosted materials over multiple semesters or quarters without obtaining copyright permissions.

Columbia University's Copyright Advisory Office created an informative page on posting materials to your courses and fair use. 

US Copyright - Relevant Sections

Copyright law as it pertains to limitations on exclusive rights, fair use, and libraries.

Additional Fair Use Resources