Copyright law - Fair use

Copyright Law fact sheet P-09 : Understanding Fair Use

Issued: 5th July 2004
Last amended: 5th July 2004
  1. What is fair use?

    In copyright law, there is a concept of fair use, also known as; free use, fair dealing, or fair practice.

    Fair use sets out certain actions that may be carried out, but would not normally be regarded as an infringement of the work.

    The idea behind this is that if copyright laws are too restrictive, it may stifle free speech, news reporting, or result in disproportionate penalties for inconsequential or accidental inclusion.

  2. What does fair use allow?

    Under fair use rules, it may be possible to use quotations or excerpts, where the work has been made available to the public, (i.e. published). Provided that:

    • The use is deemed acceptable under the terms of fair dealing.
    • That the quoted material is justified, and no more than is necessary is included.
    • That the source of the quoted material is mentioned, along with the name of the author.
  3. Typical free uses of work include:
    • Inclusion for the purpose of news reporting.
    • Incidental inclusion.
    • National laws typically allow limited private and educational use.
  4. What is incidental inclusion?

    This is where part of a work is unintentionally included. A typical examples of this would be a case where holiday movie inadvertently captured part of a copyright work, such as some background music, or a poster that just happened to on a wall in the background.

  5. Points to keep in mind...

    The actual specifics of what is acceptable will be governed by national laws, and although broadly similar, actual provision will vary from country to country.

    Cases dealing with fair dealing can be complex, as decisions are based on individual circumstances and judgements. This can be a very difficult area of copyright law.

    To avoid problems, if you are in any doubt, you are advised to always get the permission of the owner, prior to use.

  6. UK fair dealing legislation

    For specific details on fair dealing under UK law please refer to our factsheet P-27: Using the work of others.

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This fact sheet is intended only as an introduction to ideas and concepts only. It should not be treated as a definitive guide, nor should it be considered to cover every area of concern, or be regarded as legal advice.

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Copyright Law: Understanding Fair Use fact sheet from the UK Copyright Service.