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The purpose of this page is to provide Caldwell University faculty with a basic understanding of copyright law, including exceptions that allow instructors to use copyrighted material in their classrooms without permission from the rightsholder.

For additional information about the University's copyright policies, please see the University Policy Manual, Volume 2 (General Institutional Policies) and Volume 4 (Faculty Handbook). Relevant sections of the Manual include, 2.7, and

*This page does not supply legal advice, nor is it intended to replace the advice of legal counsel.

An Introduction to Copyright Law

Copyright law, as defined in Title 17 of the U.S. Code, protects "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression" for a limited period, generally 70 years after the death of the author.  

There are eight categories of works of authorship protected by copyright law:

  1. literary works;
  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 audiovisual works;
  7. sound recordings; and
  8. architectural works.

Copyright protects both published and unpublished works, and tangible media include both traditional (books, photographs, sculptures, etc.) and digital media (electronic journals, websites, software, etc.). 

The owner of copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, prepare derivative works based on the original, sell or lease copies of the work, and perform or display the work publicly.‚Äč

In order to use a work during its term of copyright protection, you must either get permission from the owner (which may be contingent on payment of a licensing fee) or rely on one of the limitations built into the Copyright Act, such as fair use.

Unprotected Works

Copyright does not protect:

  • Ideas, procedures, processes, and systems described in copyrighted works
  • Works of the U.S. Government
  • Works in the public domain
  • Facts and works that lack originality (e.g., a phone book)

The information below applies to the distribution of text, images, video, and audio.  If you provide your students with a link to a work, you don't need to worry about copyright infringement.  (You may also be able to reuse content licensed by Jennings Library, such as streaming videos from VAST or Films on Demand.  Check with a librarian to find out what uses are permitted by our licenses.)

Where you don't provide a link but instead wish to display or reproduce the original work itself, copyright issues come into play.  As noted in the first tab, the owner of the work generally has exclusive rights to reproduce it.  But there are three major exceptions to the owner's exclusive rights that allow instructors to use copyrighted works in their classrooms:

  1. Fair Use – 17 U.S. Code § 107
  2. Face-to-Face Teaching  17 U.S. Code §110(1)
  3. The TEACH Act  17 U.S. Code §110(2)

Fair Use

Under certain conditions, the use of a work for criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research is considered  "fair use" and as such, is not an infringement of copyright.  Not all uses in an academic context are automatically considered fair use!  There are four factors that you must consider when evaluating if your use is fair:

  1. The purpose and character of the use: Providing added value or a new context to a work, as in criticism, commentary, or parody, weighs in favor of fair use.  Nonprofit, educational uses also support a finding of fair use.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work: If the work is factual, this supports a finding of fair use.  If the original work is imaginative (e.g. literature, art, music) or unpublished, Factor 2 will weigh against a determination of fair use.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole: If you use only a small amount of the original work, no more than is necessary to achieve your educational purpose, Factor 3 will weigh in favor of fair use.  There is no bright-line rule for what will be considered an acceptable amount, but it is generally recommended that you not use more than 10% of the original work, or more than one chapter from a book.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work: If your use could replace a sale  (or sales) of the work, and affordable permission/licensing is available for using the work, Factor 4 will weigh against a determination of fair use.

The Fair Use Checklist in the "Additional Resources - Exceptions for Teaching" box to the right can help you work through each of the four factors as you evaluate your proposed usage of a copyrighted work.

Recent court decisions tend to "[collapse] the Fair Use Statute's four factors into two questions: Is the use you want to make of another's work transformative -- that is, does it add value to and repurpose the work for a new audience -- and is the amount of material you want to use appropriate to achieve your transformative purpose? Transformative uses that repurpose no more of a work than is needed to make the point, or achieve the purpose, are generally fair use" (Harper, 2012).  

Face-to-Face Teaching

Section 110(1) states that "performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction" is not an infringement of copyright.  This allows you to show or play copyrighted works in the classroom, but does NOT allow for copying of the work.  Also, the law specifies that you must use a legally obtained copy of the work (e.g., not a bootlegged movie).


The TEACH Act, Section 110(2), allows for the transmission of copyrighted works to students through course management systems, e.g., Blackboard, under very specific circumstances.  The institution must have policies and informational materials about copyright that are available to faculty and students.  Access to the materials must be restricted to registered students, and only for the duration of the course – technological measures should be in place to ensure that students don't retain the material after the course is over or disseminate it to others.  You should only display small portions of musical, audiovisual, or literary works, in amounts comparable to what you would use in face-to-face teaching.  The TEACH Act does not allow for the use of particular types of copyrighted works, such as materials specifically marketed for use in education.  Click on the link to the TEACH Act Guide and Checklist in the "Additional Resources - Exceptions for Teaching" box for more information that will help you evaluate your proposed use.

If your proposed use of a copyrighted work does not fall within one of the three exceptions for teaching and is not covered by a library license, you should seek permission from the copyright owner.  The rights holder may be the author/creator of the work.  However, in many cases, the rights may have been transferred to the publisher or record label.  

If you know who the rights holder is, you can contact them directly to request permission to use the work.  Be sure to clearly describe your intended use of the work, including if you would like to reuse it for multiple semesters.  Some rights holders will grant gratis permission, while others may make permission contingent upon payment of a licensing fee.

We recommend that you contact the rights holder several weeks before you would like to use the material in your course, in order to allow adequate time for response and follow-up.  Starting the process well in advance also gives you time to find alternate resources if the rights holder denies permission or does not respond to your request.

Check out the link below for more information about getting permission and advice on how to contact rights holders for different types of media.

Open Access

If your proposed use of a copyrighted work does not qualify for one of the exceptions and you are unable to get permission, you may still be able to achieve your instructional goals by providing your students with open access substitutes — public domain or Creative Commons licensed works. Check out the Library's guide to Open Access for suggestions on where to find open access resources, or contact a librarian for help.

Learn more about Fair Use & Copyright

Guide Attribution

This page was originally created by Lauren Fowler.