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Citing Sources

Guidelines for Fair Use

Guidelines for Print Materials

  • Single Chapter from a book
  • A single article from a journal issue or newspaper
  • A short story, essay, or poem from an individual work.
  • A chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture from a book, journal, or newspaper.

Guidelines for Musical Pieces

Have you heard about the mythical "30 second rule" or a "10 second rule" for fair use? According to the Student Press Law Center's Guide to Music Licensing (broadcasting and webcasting), these have made many people think they can use shorter musical clips for their purposes without the need to obtain a license. No such rules exist in copyright law. While courts consider the amount of work used, this is only one of four factors courts consider in evaluating fair use. Even with a few seconds, a court could still find factors that weigh against fair use. The Supreme Court has stated that even if a use is minimal, it could constitute infringement if it takes the "heart" of the work/song.

For more information, see

Guidelines for Images

Fair Use Guidelines For Digital Images provides useful information for assessing fair use of digital images.

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media

The Center for Social Media in the School of Communication at American University, the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property in American University Washington College of Law, and the Media Education Lab of Temple University conducted a project 2007-2009 to clarify fair use in media education, with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. This project will help media literacy educators understand their rights under the doctrine of fair use in order to help them more effectively use media as an essential part of their teaching.

What Is "Fair Use"?

Under the “fair use” rule of copyright law, an author may make limited use of another author’s work without asking permission. However, “fair use” is open to interpretation. Fair use is intended to support teaching, research, and scholarship, but educational purpose alone does not make every use of a work fair. It is always important to analyze how you are going use a particular work against the following four factors of fair use.

  1. What is your purpose in using the material? Are you going to use the material for monetary gain or for education or research purposes?
  2. What is the characteristic nature of work – is it fact or fiction; has it been published or not?
  3. How much of the work are you going to use? Small amount or large? Is it the significant or central part of the work?
  4. How will your use of the work effect the author’s or the publisher’s ability to sell the material? If your purpose is for research or education, your effect on the market value may be difficult to prove. However, if your purpose is commercial gain, then you are not following fair use.

The U.S. Copyright Office provides a fact sheet.

Fair Use Check List

The following sites can provide helpful information on deciding if you are using copyrighted material fairly.