Fair use is a limitation on copyright. It allows people other than the copyright owner to copy part or, in some circumstances, all of a copyrighted work, even when the copyright holder objects or has not given permission. The concept of fair use is why your professor can legally provide you with a copy of a journal article to read for class and why you can check out a book, DVD or CD at the library.
Here are some examples of the types of uses the courts have determined to be fair:
- Criticism and commentary
- News reporting - using quotes for the puposes of news reporting
- Art - repurposing parts of other people's work in a new art piece
- Scholarship and research
- "time-shifting" - copying something like a television show to watch at a later time
- Search engine's use of thumbnail images for search results