What is Fair Use, and do my resources qualify?

Fair use is an exception built into copyright law which allows creators to use the copyrighted work of another without their permission. This is a very tricky exception because what you consider fair use may not be what the original copyright owner considers to be fair. The ultimate judge of what is fair is an actual judge in a court of law where these cases get settled. Decisions tend to depend on the facts of each case, so as a creator it’s hard to look to these cases for lessons you can apply to your own use of another’s content. For this reason, we highly recommend using only your own original work in your resources or getting the written permission of another creator before using their work in your own.

But I thought there were special rules that allow for teaching and educational uses. Is that true?

When courts decide fair use cases, there are certain categories of use which get special treatment under the rules. These categories are: 

  • Teaching
  • Criticism
  • News Reporting
  • Commentary 

The teaching exception is the rule that allows teachers to make multiple copies of someone else’s content or incorporate another’s images or book passages into a lesson. However, what’s okay to use in your classroom may not be okay when you put that same lesson plan or worksheet up for sale. Using another’s work commercially is not given special consideration under the law. As a LessonMaker, you should be aware of this important distinction as you decide whether or not to use another’s content as part of your own.

The major exception to this principle is work that has aged out of copyright protection and is in the “public domain.” It can be difficult to know whether a work has passed into the public domain, but there are some helpful resources out there. Check out this chart from Cornell.  

Additionally, here are some links to information about fair use:



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