Answered By: Ana Enriquez
Last Updated: Apr 10, 2023     Views: 9683

Web designs and software interfaces are often copyrightable. However, fair use, a provision of U.S. copyright law, gives users the right to use copyrighted material without permission under certain circumstances. If a use is fair, the user need not notify or seek permission from the copyright holder. For a general overview, see our fair use page.

Fair use is extremely favorable to most use of screenshots. Here's why:

  • First factor: Criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research are favored purposes under the first factor. If you use a screenshot for one of these purposes, that weighs in favor of fair use. Transformativeness, using a work for a purpose different from the purpose for which it was created, also favors fair use. Use of screenshots is often transformative. For example, using a screenshot from an app to talk about user interface design is transformative, because the interface was created to enable users to interact with the app, not for talking about design.
  • Second factor: If the work you are using is more factual than creative, this weighs in favor of fair use under the second factor. If it's more creative than factual, that weighs against fair use. The second factor is relatively unimportant.
  • Third factor: Under the third factor, using a large amount of the work or the part of the work from which the work derives its value weighs against fair use. Screenshots typically depict a very small part of an overall work, which weighs in favor of fair use.
  • Fourth factor: The fourth factor considers the impact of your use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. Screenshots are unlikely to decrease demand for the original by acting as a substitute -- they are a small part of the work and don't have the interactivity of the original app or website. In addition, there's generally not a licensing market for use of screenshots. The exception here would be film or television stills, which tend to have stronger licensing markets.

With questions, please contact the Office of Scholarly Communications and Copyright. Please note that we are not able to provide legal advice and therefore cannot make fair use determinations for library patrons.

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