Fair Use

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Fair Use

Fair Use laws apply to non-profit organizations just as they do for-profit organizations. In addition, sharing someone else's original material on social media can be considered copyright infringement, so sharers should always give credit to the original author or artist in addition to receiving permission to use the material. Court cases have recently determined that altering material to change its purpose and meaning does not constitute copyright infringement, but simply adding a text overlay to a picture does.

How to determine whether fair use applies

There is a consensus within courts that a fair use case has 4 criteria.
1. Purpose and character of using the content. For example, using for profit versus educational purposes.
2. Nature of copyrighted work.
3. How much of the original material is used.
4. How using the copied material affects the profit or value of the original work.
These criteria were used to outline the following compiled material and subsequent suggestions.

Non-profit use

While non-profit and educational use is considered in the first criteria of a fair use case, it is important to note that nonprofits are not exempt from copyright infringement. It is recommended that non-profits use images and other media that are within the public domain or stock images. Some owners of copyrighted material allow their work to be openly licensed, which is typically done through Creative Commons licenses.

Altering copyrighted material

Recent court cases have shown that copyrighted material needs to be significantly transformed, otherwise it is considered copyright infringement. In one case, the judge stated that adding a copyrighted image to a side-by-side image and adding a text overlay was not transformative enough to be considered fair use material. In a music copyright case, the judge stated that using copyrighted material and then altering the material to change its meaning and purpose was transformative enough to be considered fair use material. However, it is important to note that these decisions are typically made under the discretion of a judge or jury. Therefore, it is difficult to determine outside a court whether copyrighted material has been transformed into fair use material.

Crediting the original creator

Crediting the original creator is an important step in preventing copyright infringement, but it does not bypass obtaining permission from the creator. Many creators who allow their material to be openly licensed still state that they should be credited for their work. Attributing material to the original creator and/or material is a simple process that includes three to four parts.
1. The material's original name with a link to where the material was found.
2. The creator's name if available.
3. The licensing type with a link to the source.
4. Any alterations made to the material.

Sharing on Social media

One important copyright court case involving social media determined that sharing on social media can be considered copyright infringement if the proper steps are not followed. While this particular case involved for-profit entities, it still stands as a precedent for future cases that claim that sharing on social media is fair use. When sharing copyrighted material on social media, it is important to take precautions and consult the original creator and credit if necessary.


To avoid copyright infringement, it is important to consider the source of the original material. If it is not copyrighted or is openly licensed, it is considered fair use. Transforming copyrighted material can be difficult to determine because of its subjective nature, but changing the material's message or purpose has appeared to be admissible. It is recommended to consult the original creator and properly attribute the material, especially when sharing on social media.

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