Fair Use Checklist

Introduction to the Checklist

The Fair Use Checklist and variations on it have been widely used for many years to help educators, librarians, lawyers, and many other users of copyrighted works determine whether their activities are within the limits of fair use under U.S. copyright law (Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act).  Fair use is determined by a balanced application of four factors set forth in the statute: (1) the purpose of the use; (2) the nature of the work used; (3) the amount and substantiality of the work used; and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the work used.  Those factors form the structure of this checklist.  Congress and courts have offered some insights into the specific meaning of the factors, and those interpretations are reflected in the details of this form.

Benefits of the Checklist

A proper use of this checklist should serve two purposes.  First, it should help you to focus on factual circumstances that are important in your evaluation of fair use.  The meaning and scope of fair use depends on the particular facts of a given situation, and changing one or more facts may alter the analysis.  Second, the checklist can provide an important mechanism to document your decision-making process.  Maintaining a record of your fair use analysis can be critical for establishing good faith; consider adding to the checklist the current date and notes about your project.  Keep completed checklists on file for future reference.

The Checklist as Roadmap

As you use the checklist and apply it to your situations, you are likely to check more than one box in each column and even check boxes across columns.  Some checked boxes will favor fair use and others may oppose fair use.  A key issue is whether you are acting reasonably in checking any given box, with the ultimate question being whether the cumulative weight of the factors favors or turns you away from fair use.  This is not an exercise in simply checking and counting boxes.  Instead, you need to consider the relative persuasive strength of the circumstances and if the overall conditions lean most convincingly for or against fair use.  Because you are most familiar with your project, you are probably best positioned to evaluate the facts and make the decision.

Further Information

You can learn more about fair use from many sources, including the website of the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University: www.copyright.columbia.edu.

Creative Commons

Want to reproduce or adapt this checklist (and this introduction) for your needs?  Please do.  Regard the checklist and introduction as “Creative Commons Attribution Only” (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/) with credit to the original creators of the checklist, Kenneth D. Crews (Columbia University) and Dwayne K. Buttler (University of Louisville).

Simple requests to users

Please do include a version of this introduction to help users of the checklist. 

This checklist is provided as a tool to assist you when undertaking a fair use analysis.  The four factors listed in the Copyright Statute are only guidelines for making a determination as to whether a use is fair.  Each factor should be given careful consideration in analyzing any specific use.  There is no magic formula; an arithmetic approach to the application of the four factors should not be used.  Depending on the specific facts of a case, it is possible that even if three of the factors would tend to favor a fair use finding, the fourth factor may be the most important one in that particular case, leading to a conclusion that the use may not be considered fair.

Fair Use Checklist (PDF)

Most Recent Revision: 032213

When making use of this page under the terms of the CC license, please include this form of attribution: "Used under a Creative Commons BY license from the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, Kenneth D. Crews, director."  If your needs for the material are outside the scope of the license, please consider fair use or simply asking us for permission.


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