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Copyright for Educators

This guide can help faculty and staff understand the exceptions and limitations to copyright in an academic setting

What's Covered?

A work is protected under copyright from the moment it becomes fixed in a tangible medium. However, it is important to know that not everything is copyrightable. The law has defined 8 categories that works can fall under in order to be eligible for copyright protection:

  1. Literary works
    • including almost all text-based media, such as computer code and programs
  2. Musical  works
    • including any accompanying words
  3. Dramatic works
    • including any accompanying music
  4. Pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  6. Motion pictures and other audio visual works
  7. Sound recordings
  8. Architectural works

The owner of a copyrighted work is granted the exclusive permission to:

  1. Reproduce or make copies
  2. Create or prepare derivatives
  3. Distribute copies
    • including selling, renting, lending, giving it away
  4. Perform or display the work publicly
    • including digital transmissions

What's Not Covered?

Although the categories eligible for copyright protection are intentionally vague in order to afford a level of flexibility for future mediums, there are a few instances were copyright laws do not apply:

  1. Not fixed in a tangible medium (e.g. improvised speech that is not recorded)
  2. Titles, names, short phrases, or slogans (usually protected under other laws)
  3. Discoveries, ideas, concepts, or principles
  4. Methods, procedures, processes, or systems
  5. Works containing no original creative expression  (e.g. facts, news, calendars, lists, etc.)
  6. Works in the public domain

Common Problematic Scenarios

Here is a list of common problematic copyright scenarios:

1. It's Fair Use as long as it's done for educational purposes, so I don't need to worry about copyright.

Answer:  Although Fair Use does favor using works for educational purposes, that is not the only factor that determines whether or not the use can be characterized as "fair use."

2. As long as I don't use more than 10% of a work it will not be considered infringement.

Answer: The Fair Use Doctrine gives no magic number when it comes to what would be considered an allowable amount. Though there are guidelines established by the House of Representatives as well as court cases that have set the precedent for the 10% rule, this is by no means a guaranteed safe harbor.

3. The work doesn't have a copyright symbol, so it must not have any copyright restrictions.

Answer: The copyright symbol can be a helpful indicator that the creator of the work is actively retaining their exclusive rights, but it is not a requirement for enforcement. When the work was published (or if it was never published) will be the deciding factor of whether or not copyright laws are still in effect.

4. I intend to use my own book/article/video for my teaching purposes, so copyright laws don't apply.

Answer: Is the work published or unpublished? If it was published, did you retain copyright of the work? If unpublished, was the work entirely your own or does it have multiple creators? If it does have multiple creators, do you have their permission to use the work for your class?

5. I give credit to creators and always provide my class with full citations, isn't that enough?

Answer: Crediting a source is considered best practice and acts as a courtesy to the creator, but it does not substitute for permission.

Copyright for Educators

Copyright restrictions are a concern for all educators as we plan for instruction. This guide can provide you with an introduction to some of the notable copyright exceptions and limitations that impact your ability to share resources with your students.

Please keep in mind - Ignorance of the law is not a defense!

You are responsible for understanding and working within the boundaries of copyright laws.

Copyright Symbol

Copyright Symbol