The Copyright Act gives copyright holders the exclusive right to reproduce works for a limited time period. Fair use is a limitation on this right. Fair use allows people other than the copyright owner to copy part or, in some circumstances, all of a copyrighted work, even where the copyright holder has not given permission or objects.
Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.
Whether a use is fair will depend on the specific facts of the use. Note that attribution has little to do with fair use; unlike plagiarism, copyright infringement (or non-infringement) doesn't depend on whether you give credit to the source from which you copied. Fair use is decided by courts on a case-by-case basis after balancing the four factors listed in section 107 of the Copyright Act. Those factors are:
These factors are guidelines, and they are not exclusive. As a general matter, courts are often interested in whether or not the individual making use of a work has acted in good faith.
Courts have regarded the following activities as fair use: (Source: 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law)
Credit: The Fair Use portion of this guide was originally created by Devin Soper, librarian at the Florida State University.