Suppose a commercial language learning app displays a single sentence at a time to a user, with the purpose of reviewing the sentence to learn new words.

In order to get examples of natural sentences for learning use, would it be considered fair use in terms of copyright to take sentences from news websites?

Reviewing the factors from: In the US, when is fair use a defense to copyright infringement?

Factor 1: Purpose and character of use

  • The app is for language learning so is therefore of an educational use (weighs in favour)
  • The app is commercial (weighs against)

Factor 2: The nature of the copyrighted work

  • "[T]he scope of fair use is generally broader when the source of borrowed expression is a factual or historical work" (Campbell). (weighs in favour since news articles are factual)

Factor 3: Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

  • Only one sentence at a time is displayed to the user (weighs in favour)

Factor 4: Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

  • It is extremely unlikely that users of the app will be drawn away from using the original news website.

All 4 factors seem to be in favour apart from the commercial nature of the app.

Question: Would this be in favour of fair use even though the app is of a commercial nature?

Similar question: Can one use already said sentences as examples on a language lesson?

  • 1
    As phrased, the question is very specific to your situation. Requests for specific legal advice are off topic. Consider rewriting the question so it is about possible application of a specific law to a set of hypothetical facts ("suppose there is a website that does X; how would fair use apply?"). Otherwise it will be closed.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 14:46
  • 1
    @Jen - All 4 factors seem to be in favour of fair use, apart from factor 1, since it would be for a commercial use. However, it is also educational. Can the application be commercial and educational at the same time and still have factor 1 weigh in favour of fair use?
    – F Chopin
    Commented Jun 19, 2023 at 14:48
  • @phoog I have now rewritten the question
    – F Chopin
    Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 8:04
  • The linked question situation is a bit different, since that's for a lesson. Including copies of material in a lesson (which is used only among the limited audience of that classroom) is usually a different situation than including material on a Web site or in an app that you are redistributing to a wide audience. Most teachers I know have at times utilised copyrighted materials in their lessons to various degrees, without any hesitation or seeking legal advice, but placing those materials onto a public site or app would require different considerations and probably specific legal advice.
    – Brandin
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 11:03

1 Answer 1


Usually, copying a single sentence for educational purposes such as language learning would constitute fair use under U.S. copyright laws, assuming that the publisher is not going sentence by sentence to use a large share of the source work in the aggregate. This would be true even if the education provider was a "for profit" educational provider.

Every "fair use" case is evaluated on a case by case basis if litigated. But this is a fairly clear case of fair use that is only the slightest bit gray.

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