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:
- 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.
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