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Copyright for Educators  

Last Updated: May 23, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Posting Copyrighted Article to Web Page or LibGuide

  • Scenario: A professor has posted his class notes on a web page available to the public. He wants to scan an article from a copyrighted journal and add it to his web page.
  • Fair Use: No, if access is open to the public, then this use is not a fair use. No exclusively educational purpose can be guaranteed by putting the article on the web, and such conduct would arguably violate the copyright holder's right of public distribution.

Copying Student Papers

  • Scenario: An instructor copies the papers submitted by the students in the class and brings them to the Libraries to place on electronic or paper reserve.
  • Fair Use: No, the students' papers are copyrighted and each of the students will own the copyright to their papers. The instructor will need permission from each student to copy the papers. She should get the permissions before bringing the papers to the Library.
  • If an instructor gets permission to copy a student authored work for use in Library reserves, she would need new permission to use the work again during any subsequent academic term.

        Please note: Certain uses of student work may require compliance with the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA).

Putting Chapters from a Book on Electronic Reserve

  • Scenario: An economics professor finds a great book in the library that has four short chapters.  They directly address a key topic of the course. Is it a fair use to digitize these chapters and have them placed on electronic reserves?
  • Fair Use: Maybe - Based on the first factor, the use would be fair - educational use. The works are not highly creative, so the second factor also supports fair use. Four chapters could be problematic according to the third use factor, which limits the amount and substantiality of what is used. If the work were 400 pages and each chapter was 10 pages, then in essence only 10% of the entire work--a small portion would be used. This could be fair use. If, however, the chapters selected represented the central content pivotal to the entire work, the substantiality of the chapters would not support fair use.
  • If these chapters are to be used in reserves repeatedly, permission will need to be obtained.

Posting Readings on Moodle

  • Scenario: An instructor scans excerpts from journals, textbooks, and various other sources and creates PDF files of all of the readings. The instructor announces to the class that the readings will be available online at the course Moodle site. Is this fair use?
  • Fair Use: Fair use is determined by the results of the four factor analysis conducted for each work. In this scenario, the instructor must conduct a four factor analysis for each journal article, each textbook section, and any other work she wishes to include on the class Moodle site. The result may be mixed and fair use might apply to some works while others may require permission from the rights owner for inclusion on the class website. (How new or recent is the material, is it out of print, how much of the entire work is being used, etc.)

Other Scenarios

Copying an Article for the Entire Class

  • Scenario: An instructor gives every student a copy of an article to complete a homework assignment
  • Fair Use: An instructor is allowed "not more than one short poem, article, story, essay or two excerpts may be copied from the same author, nor more than 3 from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term. There shall not be multiple copying for one course during one class term. If possible link to the article in your course management system, etc. instead of making copies and distributing.

Uploading an Article Obtained from the Library to Moodle

  • Scenario: An instructor wants her students to read an article from a professional journal. She accesses the full text of the article as a PDF through the Libraries' databases. She saves the article to her computer and then uploads it to her course's Moodle site for students to download
  • Fair Use: Not the PDF. Since the instructor obtained the article from a Libraries licensed electronic resource she needs to understand general limitations and restrictions on use that may be contained in the license agreement between the publisher and the Libraries. The terms of such license agreements control how the materials may be used.
  • Frequently license agreements do not allow copying of PDF files and reposting them to an instructor's web site or Moodle site. However, in numerous instances the instructor can make articles available to students from a course web page through a direct link.

Making Personal Copies                                  

  • Scenario: An instructor finds an article in a professional journal that will be helpful to her in future research projects. She would like to make a copy of the journal article for her personal files.
  • Fair Use: Yes, making a personal copy of a copyrighted work for research and reference is a fair use.


  • Scenario: If I have a student who is deaf, blind or visually impaired can I record or copy the textbook?
  • Answer: If the book is not available in large print or as an audible book, you are allowed to copy or record.

Photographs of Art

  • Scenario: An instructor would like to take digital photographs of paintings, sculptures, or architectural works and share them with her class.
  • Fair Use: Works of art and architecture that are not in the public domain may still be available to copy in the form of a photographic image. Photographic reproductions are generally lower-quality and would not likely compete in the same market as the original.
  • Also, remember that peoples' faces may not appear in photographs that will be publicly displayed without a signed release.

Reserve Scenarios

 Repeated Use of Articles

  • Scenario: An instructor has found an article in a professional journal that is particularly useful for a class she teaches every semester. She would like to include the article as reading this semester, and then again next time she teaches the course. Is this a fair use?
  • Fair Use: The repeated use of a copyrighted work, from term-to-term, requires careful evaluation. It requires one to consider the impact of using a copyrighted work on any market for the original article, including the permissions market. Repeated use of a copyrighted work weighs against fair use.

Textbook Chapters for Classroom Use

  • Scenario: In the attempt to save students money a professor scans several chapters from an expensive textbook for her course and uploads a PDF file of the chapters to her Moodle site for students to read. This is the only material the students need from this particular textbook to complete class assignments. Is this a fair use?
  • Fair Use: This is not a fair use. A four factor analysis of these circumstances would reasonably conclude that the market is directly affected by this activity. Students who would otherwise be expected to purchase the book no longer need to and the publisher is thus deprived of sales. An alternative approach for the teacher would be to place an appropriately acquired copy of the textbook on reserve in the Library or to ask students to purchase the text from the bookstore.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        


Showing a Videotape for Classroom Instruction

  • Scenario: A teacher wishes to show a copyrighted motion picture to her class for instructional purposes.
  • Fair Use: Yes, since it is for classroom instruction and no admission fee is charged. Tuition and course fees do not constitute admission fees.
  • Scenario: Can I record the same program off-air in order to use within off-air recording guidelines?
  • Fair Use: No. You cannot make an additional copy during another time period by the same teacher.
  • Scenario: Can I make a film clip compilation to use in my advertising class? I want to take short segments from commercials.
  • Fair Use: Yes, as long as the segments are brief and you do not circumvent technology to make compilation.

 Copying a Videotape for Classroom Instruction

  • Scenario: A teacher makes a copy of the videotape described above for a colleague to show in her class at the same time.
  • Fair Use: No. The teacher may lend her personal copy of the videotape to a colleague for this purpose. Must be legally owned.   
  • Scenario: An instructor doesn't have an audio cassette or VHS player in their classroom. Can they make copies in CD or DVD to accommodate their use?
  • Fair Use: No. If available, they must purchase the audiovisual program in the needed format. If the equipment becomes obsolete the program can be copied.  

Showing a Video in an Online Class

  • Scenario: An instructor wants to create a copy of a documentary and post it to a password-protected course website for download.
  • Fair Use: Only in the face-to-face classroom setting would this be allowable under the provisions of Section 110(1) in U.S. copyright law.
  • In this case the instructor would conduct a four factor fair use analysis to determine whether this is an allowable use. The circumstances weigh against fair use. Though the purpose is educational and the nature of this documentary film may be factual, the amount (the entire film) and the market effect (students will download the film and thus be able to keep their own copy) tip the balance of the four factors away from fair use. Use of the entire film may be critical to the educational purpose but by downloading the entire film each student becomes part of a distribution of the film that very likely has a negative market effect which cannot be ignored.

      Many companies provide rights to use audiovisual programs in online courses, etc.

Showing a Video for Non-Educational Use (leisure activities unrelated to education, as a fund-raiser)

  • Fair Use: No. You need to have permission or public performance rights i.e. Music Licensing USA

Using Media in PowerPoint Presentations

  • Scenario: An instructor wants to include photographs or music in a PowerPoint presentation for class lecture. Do they need to seek permission from the copyright owners to do so? What if they want to make changes to the photograph or music file?
  • Fair Use: Yes, because the use occurs in the face-to-face classroom, the instructor does not need to seek permission to use the copyrighted photographs and music files. Displaying or performing copyrighted works for classroom purposes is allowed under section 110 of U.S. Copyright Law.
  • In addition, changes made to enhance his instructional purpose, e.g. commentary, criticism, even parody, are activities allowed under the fair use provision.

Copying Deteriorating Video

  • Scenario: The library has a video that is deteriorating. Can they copy?
  • Fair Use: No, if the video is available for purchase. Yes, if the video is not available for purchase. In this case the copied video can only to be used in the library. Section 108 of the 1976 Copyright Act and Section 104 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 permits libraries and archives to make up to 3 copies of unique or deteriorating work used in the library.

Using Musical Excerpts

  • Scenario: A professor wants to take excerpts from six musical works to compare differences in a passage performed by different groups. The works were obtained legally and no licenses were signed. Is it a fair use for the professor to make this recording for use in classroom teaching?  
  • Fair Use: The purpose of the copying is instruction, not profit. Based on the first factor, the use would be fair. The works are highly creative, however, so the second factor weighs against fair use. Only small portions are being used. In this case the third fair use factor is met. There is little evidence that the copying, given its extent and purpose, would have any market effect. The issue of market effect is actually lessened since two of the other three factors are met. Unless there is a comparable commercially available recording, this would be a fair use.

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