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Theses, Dissertations, and Creative Components: Rights and Responsibilities

Important things for students to know when completing their thesis, dissertation, or creative component.

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a provision in US Copyright law that allows the use of copyrighted materials on a limited basis for specific purposes without the permission of the copyright holder.

Four Factors of Fair Use

  1. Purpose of use: Best if materials are nonprofit, educational, scholarly, or for research use; Alternatively, the use of the work may be transformative: repurposing, recontextualizing, creating a new purpose or meaning for the material.
  2. Nature or type of work: The use of published, fact-based content is more likely to be considered fair use than unpublished or artistic content.
  3. Amount used: Authors should only use the amount needed for a given purpose; Using small or less significant amounts is considered preferable.
  4. Market effect: Reuse should consider if there would be an effect on the market or value of the original work when the reused content is shared. Fair use favors uses that do not affect the original works.

It is necessary to weigh all four factors to decide whether a fair use exemption seems to apply to a proposed reuse. Courts take a holistic approach -- they do not simply "add up" a positive or negative for each factor.

Judges have tended to focus on two questions that collapse the four factors:

  • Does the use transform the material, by using it for a different purpose?
  • Was the amount taken appropriate to the new purpose?

To support a fair use case for an image:

  • Use lower resolution or thumbnail versions where possible;
  • Place the image in a new context or use it for a new purpose; and
  • Use only the parts of the image needed for the purpose

Useful links

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Abbey Elder
150 Parks Library
Iowa State University