Adopting & Creating OER

12 Exceptions and Limitations to Copyright

There are two main ways in which exceptions and limitations are written into copyright law: listing specific activities that are excluded from copyright and using flexible guidelines to determine what is allowed. In the U.S., this is called the fair use doctrine.

Fair use is determined using a four-factor test, where a federal judge considers:

      1. the purpose and character of your use,
      2. the nature of the copyrighted work,
      3. the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
      4. the effect of the use upon the potential market.

Fair use allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission for purposes such as criticism, parody, news reporting, research and scholarship, and teaching. The doctrine is meant to balance the rights of the copyright owner with the public’s interests. The flexibility in fair use is necessary to support innovation and access but it can also lead to uncertainty in what is allowed. 

The Copyright Office maintains a collection of Fair Use Case Rulings that highlight the sometimes contradictory rulings from court officials.



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Connecticut College Pressbooks Creator Guide by Ariela McCaffrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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