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Copyright Resources Guide

Using This Section

Some general advice about using copyrighted material is provided below.  This section of the guide also provides specific guidance on:

This part of the guide also provides information about exceptions to the copyright law that apply to instructors including the TEACH Act and the Classroom Use Exception.

Finally, there are a couple of tools you can use to help determine if your use is fair or covered by another exemption.

Using Copyrighted Materials

When trying to determine if you can use given material, try to think systematically about your use, the copyright status of the material you want to use, and the exceptions to the copyright law that might apply to your situation.

Start any analysis with two very basic questions:

  1. Does my use exercise one of the exclusive rights of copyright?  If not, copyright doesn't come into. For example, if you are simply linking to legal material available freely on the web or in a licensed library database.
  2. Is the material I want to use covered by copyright?  Most material is but if the material is in the public domain, belongs in a category unprotected by copyright as described above, or was produced by the Federal government, you are probably clear to use it. 

Once you have determined that copyright will come into play, figure out if your use is permitted by an existing exception (like fair use, the Classroom Use Exception, or the TEACH Act). If so, you can use it legally. When thinking about these exceptions it can be useful to keep in mind that in the face-to-face classroom the two exceptions that are likely to apply are the Classroom Use Exception and fair use.  In the online classroom, most often you will be looking to fair use, though in some cases the TEACH Act will apply. 

If you have determined that your use would exercise one of the exclusive rights of copyright, the work is copyrightable and still under copyright and no exception applies to your use, at that point you will need to seek permission.