Today marks the beginning of ARL’s Fair Use Week. According to the Fair Use Week website, the purpose of this week is to “celebrate the important doctrines of fair use in the United States” and “promote and discuss the opportunities presented, celebrate successful stories and explain the doctrine.”  Dillon Wackerman, SMU’s Digital Repository Librarian, has answered a few of our questions about Fair Use in honor of the week.

Q: What does “Fair Use” mean and why is it important?

Dillon: “Fair Use” allows for the use of copyrighted material in accordance with certain guidelines. Fair use is one the most important doctrines within copyright law, or of the Copyright Clause of the U.S. Constitution, ensuring the viability of its main goal: “[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts . . ..” Fair Use was initially an English common law doctrine informally created in the 18th century via court opinion(s) that was first codified in the 1976 US Copyright Act.

Q: Why is Fair Use important for higher education?

Dillon: Each and every day a student, professor or researcher will need, not just want, to use copyrighted material in order to complete an assignment, create course material or, more broadly, bring about advancements in their profession, discipline and academic community. With a codified Fair Use, and an adequate understanding of its scope and limitations, there are precedents in place that can aid these groups to more substantially, more efficiently and more effectively perform and succeed within higher education and academia.

Q: Where can I learn more information?

Dillon: There are numerous Fair Use introductions and overviews but a great start can begin with those provided by Stanford University and Justia. Fair Use Week, held annually during the last week of February, also presents relevant information and resources. Specific Fair Use court opinions can be found on the U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index. Additionally, Cornell University’s Law School provides the exact formal text of the Fair Use doctrine, 17 U.S. Code § 107, alongside an extensive set of notes and citations.


Fair Use Week logo and ‘Fair Use Fundamentals’ infographic image from FairUseWeek.Org