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Fair Use FAQs

Common Fair Use Scenerios

The scenarios below are intended to help faculty evaluate the use of an item in the context of fair use. For questions specific to online and hybrid instruction, see the pages in this guide for the TEACH Act, Streaming Video, and Moodle. The examples below include commonly asked questions related to:

Printed Materials

Journal articles

Q. Can I makes copies of an article from a periodical to distribute to a class?

A. Yes, distribution of copies of an article for classroom use is fair use. However, the repeated use of a copyrighted work, from term-to-term, may require more scrutiny in a fair use evaluation.


Q. Can I make copies of a textbook for my class?

A. You can make copies of individual chapters, but not the entire textbook. By copying the entire book and providing copies to all students you will affect the publisher's market for the book.  You should have the Library place a copy on reserve or ask each student to obtain a copy of the book.  Only the original, legally obtained text, and not a copy, can go on reserve.

Public Domain materials

Q. Can I copy a play by Shakespeare from a copyrighted anthology?

A. No. Even though Shakespeare's original copyright has ended and the play is in the public domain, the edition in the anthology is still protected by copyright because the editors created their own version of the work. Find an edition of the play that is no longer protected by copyright and in the public domain.

Out-of-Print books

Q. Can I make a copy of an out-of-print and unavailable book to put on reserve?

A. Yes, this is fair use since this is an educational use and will not impact the market since it is not available from any source.  However, the book may still be under copyright so it should not be made available freely on the internet.

Commercial Films in the Classroom

Showing a film for classroom instruction

Q. Can I show a copyrighted commercial motion picture to my class for instructional purposes?

A. Yes, it is fair use if it is a copy you bought or borrowed from the library and it is for classroom instruction.

Copying a film for classroom instruction

Q. Can I make a copy of a film I own for a colleague to show in class?

A. No, you can not make a copy, but you can lend your copy to your colleague.  You also cannot use a copied film to show to your own class.

Screening a film for an entire school or the entire campus

Q. Can I use a library-owned DVD to screen a movie and invite the entire campus?

A. No, this is not covered under the fair use exemption because it is considered a public performance and rights for public performances must be obtained from the copyright holder, usually for a fee.

Multimedia Projects


Q. Can I or a student use photographs in a presentation if permission was not obtained?

A. Yes, fair use allows classroom use of such copyrighted materials for instructional purposes. This includes incorporating photographs into documents such as PowerPoint presentations.

Q. Does this still apply for online classes?

A. Yes, as long as it is the class is only available to enrolled students and the purpose is instructional or for scholarly or research purposes. If the presentation is taped it would also be  fair use to be shown again for educational purposes such as instruction or student review.

Q. Can changes be made to a photograph in a presentation?

A. Yes, changes can be made if the audience is informed and the change was made for education, comment, criticism, or parody. The presentation and image must not be shared beyond the course.


Q. Can I use music in my teaching and presentations to the class?

A. Yes, the use of copyrighted music in presentations by instructors and students is analogous to the use of copyrighted photographs: permission does not need to be obtained as long as the purpose is educational and instructional, and restricted to the students enrolled in the course, whether in person or online.

Portion Limitations

Q. I know I can't reproduce the entirety of a copyrighted work, but how much is too much to still be covered by fair use?

A. Libraries, publishers, and other interested parties have agreed on the following guidelines:

  • Up to 10% or 1,000 words, whichever is less, of a copyrighted text work. For example, you may use an entire poem of less than 250 words but no more than three poems by one poet or five poems by different poets from the same anthology.
  • Up to 10%, but not more than 30 seconds, of the music and lyrics from an individual musical work.
  • Up to 10% or three minutes, whichever is less, of a copyrighted motion media work—for example, an animation, video, or film image.
  • A photograph or illustration in its entirety but no more than five images by the same artist or photographer. When using photographs and illustrations from a published collective work, you may use no more than 10% or 15 images, whichever is less. Or,
  • Up to 10% or 2,500 fields or cell entries, whichever is less, from a copyrighted database or data table. A “field entry” is defined as a specific item of information, such as a name or Social Security number in a database file record. A “cell entry” is defined as the intersection at which a row and a column meet on a spreadsheet.

Stanford Libraries Guide to Copyright & Fair Use

A PDF file containing the full text of the guidelines is available below.