Due to relative uncertainty about the meaning of fair use as applied to many needs of educators and librarians, various interested parties have periodically met to negotiate interpretative “guidelines.” These privately developed guidelines attempt to define an understanding of fair use as it applies to common situations.

These standards have appeared often in the literature of the law and in policy documents at colleges, universities, schools, and other institutions throughout the country. While teachers and universities may refer to these guidelines in policy documents, Congress and the courts have acted carefully and explicitly not to elevate any of the guidelines to a legally binding standard. Ultimately, the guidelines do not displace the importance of applying the four factors from the statute, which remain the source of binding law. In fact, courts have found fair use in activity outside the scope of the guidelines and denied fair use for activity within the scope of the guidelines.

Major Fair-Use Guidelines, 1976-1998

Classroom Guidelines (1976)

Scope: Photocopying of handouts for classroom teaching.

Music Guidelines (1976)

Scope: Copying of sheet music for classroom performance and recording and duplicating student performances of copyrighted music.

Off-Air Guidelines (1981)

Scope: Recording a television broadcast for later use or “performance” in teaching.

Model Policy Concerning College and University Photocopying for Classroom, Research and Library Reserve Use (1982) (scroll down the page)

Library and Classroom Use of Copyrighted Videotapes and Computer Software (1986)

Using Software: A Guide to the Ethical and Legal Use of Software for Members of the Academic Community (1986)

Fair-Use Guidelines for Electronic Reserve Systems (1996)

The following three guidelines were proposed as part of the outcome of the Conference on Fair Use (CONFU), an initiative of the U.S. government to convene interested parties to negotiate agreed understandings of fair use.

Proposal for Educational Fair-Use Guidelines for Digital Images (CONFU 1998)

Proposal for Educational Fair-Use Guidelines for Distance Learning (CONFU 1998)

Proposal for Fair-Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia (CONFU 1998)

Scope: Using portions of works in educational multimedia projects created by educators or students as part of a systematic learning activity by nonprofit educational institutions.

Learn More

Dr. Kenneth Crews, director of the Copyright Advisory Office, has written extensively about the guidelines and the problems of using them as a substitute for fair use. See the following publications:

"The Law of Fair Use and the Illusion of Fair-Use Guidelines." Ohio State Law Journal 62 (2001): 599-702 [available at Ohio State Law Journal].

"Fair Use for Higher Education: Are Guidelines the Answer?" Academe 83 (November-December 1997): 38-40.

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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Copyright in the 1990s: Nostalgia or Foundational? — Columbia Copyright Advisory Office
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