Fair Use Evaluator

A tool to help you better understand how to determine the "fairness" of a use under the U.S. Copyright Code.

Public Domain

The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it.

An important wrinkle to understand about public domain material is that, while each work belongs to the public, collections of public domain works may be protected by copyright.

A "Is It Public Domain?" flow chart.

Fair Use

Fair use is a legal exemption to the exclusive rights of copyright holders. It is determined on a case-by-case basis and is based on a consideration of the following four factors:

  • The purpose and character of the use (including whether it is trans-formative, commercial, non-profit, or educational)

  • The nature of the copyrighted work

  • The amount of the portion to be used

  • The effect upon the potential market for the copyrighted work

Because intention is a part of the consideration, only the user can make the initial assessment of whether their use is fair. Cornell University Library provides this checklist to help you in your determination. We strongly recommend that you complete and retain this form for all Fair Use considerations you make.

Fair use rules do not state a concrete maximum of usable material (not a number of words, or a length of time, or a percent of total). Fair use also does not mean that Cornell users can use/distribute any copyright material they want simply because Cornell is an educational non-profit. We are bound by copyright law too!

There is a lot of subtlety in Fair Use interpretations, for more information see the Copyright Office’s Information on Fair Use, and Case Index.                 

Creative Commons Licensing

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons "provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry." You can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved." You can do a Creative Commons Search here.

Remix and Fair Use

REMIX written in fluorescent lights