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Introduction to library research in the arts: Make fair use of information

An introduction to research concepts and techniques for University of Redlands students in fine, literary and performing arts, developed as an Open Educational Resource (OER)

Learning objective

  • Apply the two factor test to make fair use of copyrighted material.

Understanding copyright

Researchers have an ethical responsibility to make fair use of sources that they incorporate in their presentations, papers and other research projects. In this section we examine basic principles of copyright law and fair use.

Here are some key points to remember about copyright:

  • Copyright is a set of legal rights granted to the people or organizations that produce information ("rights holders").
  • Copyright is granted automatically as soon as the ideas are set down in a fixed and tangible format.
  • Only rights holders are allowed to display, perform, copy or modify the copyrighted work. Other people are supposed to ask permission before using the work.


Fair use

The two factors of fair use are your purpose and the amount of the work you are using.

Most sources that you use for your research assignments are under copyright to a rights holder (usually a publishing company). Does this mean that you need to write for permission to use every source that you cite in your paper?

No, because copyright law allows people to make "fair use" of copyrighted works for purposes such as research, teaching, criticism and commentary.

The primary factors that you should consider when deciding how to make fair use of a source are:

  1. What is your purpose for using the source? If you are teaching, commenting on, creating a parody of, or substantially transforming the source, those uses are more likely to be fair.
  2. What amount of the source are you using? If you limit your use to the smallest portion necessary to fulfill your purpose (for example, just a short clip from a video, a passage from a musical score, or a detail from a painting) those uses are more likely to be fair.

For more information

Check out our copyright and fair use for more information on copyright.

Key points

  • Fair use allows you to use portions of copyrighted sources in your research without getting permission from the rights holder.
  • Your purpose for using the copyrighted material and how much you use determine whether you can claim that your use is fair.