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Copyright for Teaching

Find out how you can use copyrighted materials for teaching inside the classroom and online.

General/Fair Use

Q: How do I know if the work I want to use is copyrighted?

A: Copyright is automatic; an item does not require registration or a copyright notice. If an item is in the public domain, it is no longer copyrighted. It is best to assume that anything you want to use is copyrighted. Note: finding the copyright holder can be problematic. See Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States (Cornell University Library) for a detailed chart.

Q: If I use copyright-protected materials for my classes, am I covered by fair use?

A: It depends on what the materials are and how much of them you use. Just because it is for education doesn't mean it is fair use. Use the "Fair Use Checklist" (PDF) to find out if your use of copyright-protected materials favors fair use and can be used without permission.

Q: If I violate copyright, am I liable, or is the university liable?

A: Ultimately you are responsible if you violate copyright.

Q: How do I get permission from a copyright holder?

A:To seek permission, you may wish to consult the Copyright Permission Forms on the Cornell University's web site.

Q: If I request permission, but I don’t hear back from the copyright holder, can I still post the materials as long as I let my students know that the materials are copyrighted?

A: That's tricky. As long as you have made a “good faith effort” to get permission and your use favors "fair use," you should be ok to post the materials with a copyright notice attached. Keep track of your attempts to get permission.

Articles & Books

Q: Can I photocopy articles to distribute to my students in a face-to-face classroom setting?

A: You may make one photocopy per student as long as your use meets the fair use guidelines. The item should also meet the test of brevity (less than 2500 words) and the test of spontaneity (your decision to use the item was not planned far enough in advance to request permission). The item should also have a copyright notice.

Q: Are there any limitations on posting material within the closed system of Canvas?

A: According to the Teach Act, use of copyrighted materials must be limited to a specific number of students enrolled in a specific class. Canvas provides the best restriction to students in your particular class. Fair use still applies, and there are still limitations to the portions of copyrighted material that you may post and the number of simultaneous semesters they may be posted.

Q: If I don't use Canvas for my courses, can I still place articles on an open course resource (e.g., Wordpress, Blogspot)?

A: Only if the items meet the criteria above and if you find a way to restrict access to your students (e.g., password protection through Adobe Acrobat Professional). Otherwise, you should probably seek permission, or consider links to items in the library's databases.

Q: Can I download pdf or html articles from the library's databases and place them on my Canvas course site?

A: The licenses for library's databases vary. Many do not allow downloading and reposting on another site. The best option is to link to the articles. Instructions for linking are on the library's web site.

Q: Can I borrow a book from the library or through Interlibrary Loan, scan it to pdf, and place it on my Canvas course site?

A: Because of portion limitations, it is never okay to scan an entire book (or journal issue). Many universities advise that you may post up to 10% of the book or journal issue on your Canvas course site. If you want your students to read an entire book, you may place it on library reserve or require it as a textbook, which addresses Factor 4 of the fair use guidelines regarding the effect on the market for the book.

Q: Can I put one chapter at a time on Canvas?

A: This is not a good practice, again because of Factor 4 (see above).

Q: Can my students group together to buy one textbook and then make photocopies to share?

A: No. This would not be fair use because it would adversely affect the market for that textbook (Factor 4).

Q: Can I create a course packet and distribute it to my students?

A: Only if you obtain permission for each of the copyrighted items in it. At ODU, you may currently use Colley Avenue Copies and Graphics to create your course packet. They will do the copyright clearance work and add the cost to the price of the course packet. If it is a distance course, the Office of Distance Learning will ship the course packet to the Distance Learning bookstore and they follow the same process as Colley Ave.

Q: Can I reuse required readings every semester?

A: This option is interpreted differently by different institutions. You should use your Fair Use Checklist [PDF] each semester, but, ideally, you should probably get permission for subsequent semesters.

Q: Can I copy exercises from a workbook and distribute them to my students?

A: "There shall be no copying of or from works intended to be 'consumable' in the course of study or teaching - such as workbooks, exercises, standardized tests, test booklets and answer sheets.” - Copyright Circular 21 [PDF] 

Q: Can I copy chapters or sections from a textbook I am NOT using in my course and either incorporate them into my Powerpoint slides or in my required reading section?

A: As with workbooks, this would probably not be a fair use because it would affect the market for the textbook publisher. If you evaluate your use as a fair use, limit the portion of the text you use, and cite the material, you might be ok.

Q: Can I ask my students to find articles on a particular topic, scan them to pdf, and email them to the entire class as a course assignment?

A: Probably. This would be a fair use, as long as they don't all copy articles from the same journal.

Audio & Video

Q: Can I show/play music CDs, Youtube videos, copyrighted movies, and video clips that come with my text book?

A: It depends. In a face-to-face classroom setting, as long as you determine it is a fair use, you may show video materials or play audio without permission unless the items were illegally made or obtained. To display a work in class, it must be for instructional purposes.

In Canvas, you can embed Youtube videos or link to other video or audio materials available on the Internet. While in-classroom use allows for playing an entire video, online use requires that only a "reasonable" portion be shown.

As long as your students purchased the text book, and the clips are part of your instruction, you should be safe to show the clips in an online class.

In a broadcast class, the TEACH Act applies, and you must:

  • display the work under your supervision
  • display it as part of the class session
  • assure that it is related to your teaching content
  • show only work that is be lawfully made and not excerpted from a product that was specifically designed and marketed for use in an online course
  • password-protect or otherwise restrict access to your enrolled students
  • reasonably prevent your students from saving or printing the work
  • include a general copyright warning on your class Web site

Q: Can I copy clips of commercial DVDs, place them on a CD, and show to them to my class?

A: If you do this for convenience, you're probably ok -- as long as you apply the fair use guidelines, only take small portions from legally made and obtained videos, and only show them to your class.

Q: Can I distribute copies of the CD to every student for their viewing outside of class?

A: Probably not, since you can't control what use they will make of it.

Q: Can I convert a VHS copy of a film to DVD?

A: If you have no way to show the VHS copy and if there is no DVD copy available for purchase, then you can probably copy it as a fair use. If there is a DVD copy available, you should purchase it or have the library purchase it.

Q: How can I use the PBS videos on the library's Web site?

A: The Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA) licensed the selected PBS videos for current students, faculty and staff at VIVA-member schools (including ODU). The license requires authentication (ODU user ID and password) before viewing. The license also stipulates that PBS video titles may not be downloaded, edited or used to create derivative works. Faculty may show the PBS video in face-to-face classroom settings. For online courses, a link to the videos can be made for students to login separately.

Q: If I check out a video from the library's collection, can I show it in a televised course?

A: It depends on the licensing for that video. In a face-to-face classroom setting, it would be ok. In an online setting, you would only be able to show a "reasonable" portion.

Q: Can I show a movie that I rented from Netflix?

A: Yes, you may show a rented movie in your face-to-face classroom, as long as you didn't sign a license agreement that prohibits such a showing.

Web Sites

Q: If there's no copyright symbol on a Web image, page, etc, may I use it without permission?

A: Since 1989, copyright is automatic -- you don't need a symbol or copyright statement. So, it depends on the content and what you want to use and how you want to use it -- is it a fair use? You may need to get permission. Assume that everything you find on the Internet is copyrighted and that using it without permission constitutes an infringement. You can always link to the web site.

Q: Do I need permission to use an image if I alter the image or use it in a different medium?

A: If you alter it, you would be creating a "derivative" work, which violates the copyrights of the owner/creator. There is no safe portion of an image you can alter without permission. To use it without permission would require it to be a fair use. If it is not a fair use, you need to get permission.

Q: If I place someone else's work on my Web site and acknowledge it, am I ok?

A: Not necessarily. Check the fair use guidelines. If you use it and the copyright owner objects, you will need to remove it from your Web site (based on the DMCA).

Q:  Can I post papers of my students on my Web site for other students to review? 

A: Not without the student's permission. If permission given, you should place it on your Canvas course site.

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