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Using Materials for Teaching or Presentation in Class

Can I use copyrighted material in my class presentations?
What is "Fair Use"? When does it apply?
Is there a difference in using material in the classroom vs. posting it on my website vs. posting in a WebCT course shell?
What about materials in the “public domain”?
What about non-text materials?
What about materials published outside of the United States?
What if I want to put copyrighted material on reserve in Ottenheimer Library?
How do I get permission when I need it?
Where else can I go to get permission?

Copyright protects all original works that meet a minimal level of creativity. This is not a qualitative judgement. Anything that is not an exact reproduction of an existing work is probably “minimally creative.” Copyright does not apply to ideas, but only works that have been recorded in some way—text, images, audio recordings, video recordings, digital records on computer drives all qualify. Copyrights involved reproduction (copying), distribution (sharing), adaptations (preparing new works based on current work), and performance and display.

Can I use copyrighted material in my class presentations?

Yes. Copyrighted material may be used for educational purposes under the the concept of “Fair Use” without prior permission from the copyright owner. However, if “Fair Use” does not apply to your proposed use, the Copyright Office recommends that permission be obtained.

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What is "fair Use"? When does it apply?

The U.S. Copyright Office’s explanation of "fair use" from Section 107 of the Copyright Law reads:

“…the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;…”

In other words: Teaching and research are covered. Including the materials in a product that you intend to sell is not.

“…(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;…”

In other words: Using materials for the facts or information contained therein is more likely to fall under fair use. Using materials for their aesthetic quality or to enhance the commercial value of a product you are developing is probably not. Using out-of-print works without permission is more likely to fall under fair use, while the expectation is greater that you will at least try to get permission for in-print works.

“…(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and…”

In other words: Use the minimum necessary to make your point.

“…(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”

In other words: Using the work in a competing commercial product of your own would NOT fall under fair use.

Summary: You can use copyrighted works without permission under fair use; but you should be prepared to explain, and if necessary defend, your decision using these four guidelines. All of these provisions are about protecting the market value of the work for the creator. The more you use and the more often you use it, the more likely it is that you may reduce the market for the original work. There are no exact rules for how much or how often you can use a work before fair use no longer applies.

Rule of thumb: Use as little as possible for as short a time as possible.

Here are guidelines that other campuses have developed that you might find useful.

Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis: Fair Use Checklist

University of Texas: Guidelines for Fair Use.

Eastern Michigan University copyright website.

Washington State Press copyright website.

For more information , visit the More Resources section, as well as the U.S. Copyright Office website.

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Is there a difference in using material in the classroom vs. posting it in my website vs. posting in a WebCT course shell?

Fair use applies no matter what teaching modality you are using. However, digital materials present special challenges because of the ease with which they can be reproduced and distributed.

Materials put on a website where anyone can access them could be considered “public distribution”, which would be a copyright infringement. Materials put into a password-protected space where only class members can access them (such as a WebCT course shell) could be treated as if they were being presented in a classroom. You are on safer ground by making copyrighted materials available to students in a course shell than you are by putting them on a website.

It would also be advisable to add notices to your presentation of copyrighted materials stating that:

  1. any copyrighted materials stored on the class web site are for use by class members only, and
  2. access to those materials is for the duration of the class only.

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What about materials in the “public domain”?

The “public domain” includes works that are not copyrighted. You do not need to get permission to use materials in the public domain.

It is hard to tell sometimes whether or not a given item is in the public domain. Failure to put a copyright notice on an item does NOT automatically put it in the public domain. (Check on section on Protecting Your Copyrights.)

Materials can be put into the public domain by their creators. Sometimes, though, there are caveats. For example, materials marked as “nonexclusive license” or “copyright free” may only actually be free if you have purchased a license to a collection in which the item resides. Creators may also state that an item is in the public domain for educational or nonprofit uses. They do not relinquish their right to restrict or prohibit the item's use for commercial purpose.

Most often materials are in the public domain because the copyrights have lapsed. Rules for determining when copyrights lapse are complicated and vary depending upon when the work was created. After that time, the work passes into the public domain. Cornell University has a website that can give you more specific guidance about when works pass into the public domain. Check out “More Resources” for links to sites that could be of assistance.

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What about non-text materials?

Fair use applies to non-textual materials just as they do for printed works when they are being used for educational and research purposes. However, there are some additional factors to consider with these materials.

For art, images, or photographs

  1. Original artworks are covered by copyright. These could include the fine arts, digitally created art images, applied arts, artistic features of useful objects such as architectural features, and photographs. All of these would be covered by copyright.
  2. Some images are in the public domain because the copyrights have lapsed. (Check out the section on “public domain” for more information or “More Resources” for links to sites to help determine if an image might be in the public domain.)
  3. Some artwork, including photographs, may themselves be simply a reproduction of an original piece (e.g., a photo of the Mona Lisa in a textbook). This gets a little complicated. Generally, if the image is an exact reproduction of a work in the public domain, then the image itself is not copyrighted. However, if the reproduction involves some minimal creative variation, then it could be copyrighted even if the artwork it copies is not. Still, if you are using it for educational and not commercial purposes, fair use would probably apply.
  4. Some artwork is accessed as part of a compilation (e.g., a collection of images made available by a vendor). How you can use such images depends upon the contract with the vendor who supplied them. The individual images could be in the public domain, but the particular compilation represents creative work on the part of the vendor. Proceed only after thoroughly reviewing the conditions of the purchase or lease agreement.
  5. Most photos taken by U.S. government agencies are in the public domain.
  6. You can use any photos that you personally take of original art work, allowing that you were photographing artwork in the public domain or objects in a public area, or you had obtained permission to photograph the work from the copyright holder.

For music or audio files:

  1. Printed sheet music should be treated like any other printed copyrighted material.
  2. Permission needs to be obtained to perform, record, or reproduce musical compositions, except where fair use might apply.
  3. Musical recordings can be duplicated under fair use for educational purposes, such as evaluating a student’s performance.
  4. Musical recordings played during classroom instruction are specifically exempt from copyright control by section 110 of the Copyright Act. Fair use is not needed.
  5. Digital posting of musical or other audio files for class use can also be covered by fair use, given that safeguards are taken to minimize the risk of distribution beyond the class members or the duration of the course. It is best to do so within a password-protected site, such as a WebCT course shell, and include a disclaimer.
  6. When in doubt, it is always best to use as little as possible of a recording and get permission if you wish to use an entire piece.
  7. The Music Library Association has some useful guidelines regarding education uses of music that you might find helpful. http://www.lib.jmu.edu/org/mla

For movies or video files

Most movies are protected by copyright, with a few exceptions (e.g., silent films before 1923, U.S. government training films). Performances of movies or television episodes are covered by fair use. However, just as with music files, while a performance is acceptable for educational purposes, care should be taken to minimize the risk of copies being made, retained, and distributed outside of the confines of the class. Purchase of video grants you permission to view that recording. However, it does not grant permission to reproduce it or use it for commercial purposes. Fair use would probably cover showing or displaying the video you had purchased to your class; but not making multiple copies for the class.

Please note that music from a movie may have a separate copyright, independent of displaying the film.

Summary: These copyrighted works can be used for educational purposes without permission under fair use. However the increased chances of multiple reproduction and sharing that these materials present—especially when delivered electronically--mean that you need to take special care. It would also be advisable to add disclaimers stating that any copyrighted materials stored in the class site are use of class members only, and access to those materials is for the duration of the class only.

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What about materials published outside of the United States?

In general, use of materials within the United States is covered by U.S. copyright law, regardless of where it was originally published. Materials could still be copyrighted here despite losing their copyrights in their country of origin, or vice versa. Not all countries have the concept of “fair use” as part of their copyright law. When in doubt, treat them as you would materials under U.S. copyright law.

Finally, keep in mind that websites can be accessed by users outside the United States. You could run the risk of being liable under that country's copyright if you have used material without permission. (Another good reason to have class materials inside a password-protected WebCT course shell.)

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What if I want to put copyrighted material on reserve in Ottenheimer Library?

New reserve procedures are under development.

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How do I get permission when I need it?

You only need to get permission if fair use does not cover how you want to use the materials. In that case:

First, check with Ottenheimer Library. If the source is a journal to which our library subscribes, additional copyright permission may not be needed.

Second, if the material is part of a course pack being prepared for you by a commercial copying service, check with the vendor to see if they will obtain the copyright permission for you as part of their service.

Third, if fair use does not apply, our library does not have copyright clearance, and you are not working with a commercial copying services, then you will need to make a direct request to the copyright/permission department of the publisher of the work you wish to use. Such requests may take four to six weeks to be processed.

Requests should include:

Follow this link to an example of a letter requesting permission for classroom use.

North Carolina State University’s library also has a useful set of sample forms for requesting permission.

Rules of thumb:

  1. Print your request letter using University letterhead. (This underscores your request as educational use.)
  2. Send two signed copies of your letter. (One copy for the copyright holder to sign and return to you and the other copy for his or her records.)
  3. Enclose a complete and specific description of the work that you want to use, including where you obtained it. For printed works, enclose a copy of the material you want to use with its complete bibliographic citation on the front page.

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Where else can I go to get permission?

You could visit the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) website, for information. They can assist you in obtaining permission for a fee.

IUPUI's Copyright Management Center has a chart of contacts for permission for variety of work.

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Remember that copyright is an area where there is still much ambiguity. Future legislation and court decisions will continue to shape copyright law. Information provided on this website should not be construed as legal advice.