Copyright is a set of rights that the government grants to authors of original works for a set period of time. These rights apply to creative works such as movies, music, novels, essays, images, and much more. These rights cannot apply to works created by the U.S. Federal government or ideas, facts, systems, or processes. The current duration of copyright is the life of the author plus 70 years. Copyright owners can license out the use of their work for a fee. Copyright does not require any registration - when an author creates something in a tangible form, published or unpublished, copyright is granted to that work. The purpose behind copyright is to encourage new creative works for the general public good and allow dissemination of those materials while rewarding the author.
Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use.
Section 107 calls for consideration of the following four factors in evaluating a question of fair use:
In addition to the above, other factors may also be considered by a court in weighing a fair use question, depending upon the circumstances. Courts evaluate fair use claims on a case-by-case basis, and the outcome of any given case depends on a fact-specific inquiry. This means that there is no formula to ensure that a predetermined percentage or amount of a work—or specific number of words, lines, pages, copies—may be used without permission.
Please note that the U.S. Copyright Office is unable to provide specific legal advice to individual members of the public about questions of fair use.