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Copyright and Teaching

Which materials can be freely used in instruction?

Using open access publications and open educational resources (OER) in teaching is an easy way to prevent any conflict with copyright law. Copyrighted material may be used under certain conditions.

  • Open access publications are articles and books that the author (or their institution) has paid to publish so that everyone can use them freely, without needing to pay or request specific permission first. (The author still retains the copyright to their work, typically through an open license, such as one from Creative Commons.)
  • Open educational resources (OER) are teaching resources (such as textbooks, lecture slides, streaming media, quizzes and test banks, and models and simulations) that have an open copyright license, or are part of the public domain and have no copyright. Depending on the license used, OER can be freely accessed, used, revised and shared.

Fair Use of Copyrighted Material

Copyrighted material that is needed for teaching, but is not open access, can still be used under the Fair Use provision of U.S. copyright law if certain conditions apply. To determine whether a use is fair, consider these four factors.

Fair Use applies to materials used for teaching in the classroom or for online instruction that are:

  • Purchased
  • Accessed through library or other licenses, or
  • Available online without an open access license.
Important to keep in mind:
  • Limit access to students in your course (this applies both to course material you have uploaded for students and to any recordings of your classes you have made)
  • Upload only what is really necessary for your educational goals
  • Check for and rely on licenses when they are available
  • Take the material down at the end of course
  • Make students aware of copyright (“Do not share!”)
  • Properly attribute the uploaded resources
  • Be reasonable, but don’t agonize

Restrictions on Use of Copyrighted Material

While Fair Use offers a clear path for most uses, some materials may have to be restricted or cannot be used at all.

In-lecture Use of Audio or Video

In person: Playing copyrighted audio or video sourced from physical media during an in-person class session is legal under a provision of copyright law called the “Face-to-Face Teaching Exemption.” However, that exemption does not cover playing the same media online.

Remote teaching: If you can limit audio and video use for your course to relatively brief clips, you may be able to include those in lecture recordings or live-casts under the Fair Use provision of the copyright law. For media use longer than brief clips, you may need to have students independently access the content outside of your lecture videos.


Licensed ebook collections can be used in classes immediately via the library VPN. In some ebook collections, publishers and authors limit access to a small number of users or cut off access after a certain number of uses. If you plan on using an ebook as a required reading, let the library know by emailing and they will confirm if a multi-user license can be obtained.

If you need an ebook that the library does not already have in its collection, submit your request via the Suggest a Purchase form.

Sharing Copies

Copying materials — whether downloading and uploading files, or scanning physical documents — poses the same copyright issues whether you will be using them with students in a physical classroom or in a distance learning environment. It is always better not to make copies of entire works. Copying portions of works to share with students will often be fair use. There is no “bright-line” rule on how much you can scan/copy for your class. The amount used should be reasonable in light of the purpose of the use.

Linking is always an easy option!

Linking to publicly available online content like news websites, existing online videos, etc., rarely leads to a copyright problem. (Having said that, it is best not to link to existing content that itself appears to be infringing on copyright.)

Linking to subscription content through the library is also a great option. A lot of library subscription content will have persistent redirect web addresses and “permalink” options, which should work even for off-campus users. (Off-campus users will need to use the library VPN.)

Also consider using open access material with Creative Commons licenses. All of this is covered under Fair Use.

Obtaining Permission to Use Copyrighted Material

If you want to use copyrighted material that may not be covered under fair use, you can always ask for permission.

Identify the copyright owner

  • For journal articles, the copyright owner can be the author (often for open access articles) or the journal publisher.
  • For books, the copyright owner is often the publisher, but for open access books it could also be the author.
  • For photographs, films and music, copyright owners often employ licensing agents who can grant permission. They may charge fees.
  • Keep copyright layers in mind – for example, an image in an article might have a different copyright owner.

Request permission in writing, include:

  • Precise identification of the material to be used, e.g., the title, author, and page numbers;
  • A link to the material you want to use or a photocopy;
  • The number of copies you wish to make;
  • The exact nature of the use, including form of distribution and whether the material will be sold.

If the copyright owner is unresponsive or cannot be identified:

  • Check Fair Use options
  • Use alternative material

Copyright Claims Board (CCB)

The Copyright Claims Board (CCB) is a new tribunal established in 2022 by the Copyright Office at the direction of Congress. The CCB hears “small claims” copyright disputes involving not more than $30,000 in damages. If you receive a valid CCB notice, it generally means that someone is asserting you have infringed their copyright and has filed a claim at the CCB seeking redress.

You have the right to opt out of having that claim heard by the CCB, but if you wish to do so, you must opt out on a timely basis. Please, do not ignore a CCB notice. Contact campus counsel or UC’s Office of General Counsel promptly if you receive a CCB notice related to your work at UC.

More about CCB implications for UC affiliates