Copyright law is like traffic law. If you drive a car, you need to understand the basics of traffic law. If you create or use copyrighted works (texts, images, videos, music, etc.), you also need to understand the basics of copyright! Each person is responsible if they infringe on someone else's copyright (Title 17 U.S. Code). It's especially important for educators to understand copyright law, since we use copyrighted works in the classroom every day! This page introduces you to some general guidelines to help you legally use copyright protected works.
LBCC Policies Related to Copyright
According to LBCC Administrative Rules, each person is held individually responsible for following the established copyright policy and administrative rules. For additional information please refer to LBCC's related Administrative Rules:
- Administrative Rule No: 4030-01 - Copying Educational Media and Technology
- Administrative Rule No: 4030-02 - Copying Books or Periodicals for Use in an Academic Setting
- Administrative Rule No: 4030-05 - Copying Related to Library Services
If you are a faculty member with questions about the ownership of your works, refer to the intellectual property section of your faculty contract.
Copyright law applies to “original works of authorship.” This includes creative and scholarly works, including books, articles, music, computer software, and movies. However, commonly known information, ideas, and short phrases are not covered by copyright law. To read more about what are considered original works of authorship, take a look at the Trotter Hardy’s overview of copyright and digital archives and the U.S. Copyright Office’s Copyright Basics document.
Some older works are no longer protected under copyright, and are considered part of the public domain. Almost all works published before 1923 are part of the public domain. Copyright law changed several times during the 20th century, and has special considerations for works published anonymously, unpublished work, and works that were not copyrighted properly. The U.S. Copyright Office offers a more detailed guide to the Duration of Copyright, and Cornell University offers a helpful chart on Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.
Isn't educational use the same as fair use?
Unfortunately, no. Using an item for an educational only counts towards one factor of fair use; you must consider all four of the factors to make a fair use determination.
Is it always fair use to use 10% or less of a work?
No. Copyright law does not provide a percentage that would constitute fair use. Generally, the smaller the amount used, the more likely it is that the use is fair. However, the other factors must also be considered.
If something is freely online is it in the public domain?
No, it likely still has some sort of copyright protection. YouTube videos, blog posts, and even your class notes are automatically protected by copyright. That protection lasts for the life of the author plus seventy years! It's good practice to assume items you're using - whether print, audio, or video - have copyright protection.
Some authors and publishers are interested in loosening the restrictions that copyright law places on their readers. They may choose to offer their work under an open license, such as a Creative Commons license. These licenses allow people to re-use an original work, as long as certain criteria are met. Some authors may require re-users to use the materials only for non-commercial purposes, or to re-use it only without modifications. Many authors require re-users to attribute the material to the original author, which is a good scholarly practice anyway.
Some authors don’t want to place any restrictions on how their work is used. They may choose to dedicate the work to the public domain, for anybody to use as they see fit. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication is a popular way to do this.
Learn more about using and creating openly licensed content at the OER Guide.
Copyright @ OSU
Columbia University's Fair Use Checklist
Stanford University Libraries: Copyright & Fair Use
Fair Use Best Practice Codes for different disciplines from CMSI.
You are free to reproduce and remix copyrighted materials if your use of the materials can be considered a fair use. Copyright law offers four factors to determine whether your use is fair or not:
- "The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purpose." If you are copying this work for nonprofit educational purposes it is more likely that your use is fair use, but you still need to consider the other three factors.
- "The nature of the copyrighted work." If you are copying a factual work, your case is stronger than if it is a creative work.
- "The amount and sustainability of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted works as a whole." If you are copying only a small portion of the original work it is easier to claim fair use.
- "The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work." If copying creates a serious negative impact on the sales or monetary value of the original work, even if you meet all three other fair use factors, your use may still be considered copyright infringement.
Before you rely on fair use, first determine if:
- You can use library resources. Check with a librarian to see if the library can get a license or purchase a particular article, video, or ebook. A librarian can show you how to embed a stable link in your online course or syllabus.
- You can link to (rather than copy) a legal, publicly available version on the web. This is often an option in digital environments (Moodle, Google Docs, YouTube, etc.). Don't link to content that appears to be pirated or distributed without the permission of the copyright holder.
- The work is already in the public domain or openly licensed, or if an open substitute is available. If the resource was published before 1924 or by the federal government, it's likely in the public domain. If the resource has a Creative Commons license, you have prior permission to copy and distribute it. A librarian can help you determine if something is open and understand how to legally use it.
- Don't copy a substantial amount from any one work. Use a small portion: one chapter, one poem, one article from a journal, or one image or graph from any particular work.
- Use the minimum amount necessary to accomplish your pedagogical goal. You should be able to explain how each chapter or article relates to course outcomes or objectives.
- Provide a citation for the work and a copyright notice. This shows good faith.
- Restrict access to the copy. When you rely on fair use, share the resource only with the students who need it through Moodle, email, in-person, etc. Don't post publicly on the web.
- Don't copy consumables (tests, workbook sheets, etc).
- Use a checklist (like this one from Columbia University) to help evaluate whether or not your use is fair. It's a good idea to keep a copy to show your good faith in making your determination.
Copyright law doesn't provide specific numbers of pages that are okay (or not okay) to copy or scan. Instead, here are some broad guidelines. If you follow these guidelines, it's likely that you will be protected by the fair use doctrine:
- Copy or scan only what you need to complete your immediate assignments. Factor three of fair use relates to the "amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole."
- Be careful when copying fiction, art, music, poetry, films, and other creative works – they are protected more heavily than non-fiction under factor two of fair use.
- Don't upload the scan or copy to the public web or share it widely. Ask yourself if you are impacting the potential market for the work (fourth factor of fair use).
Ask a librarian if you have questions about copyright and fair use. Michaela Willi Hooper (email@example.com) is the primary contact for this topic, but any librarian can assist you. We cannot provide legal advice, but we can provide relevant resources and discuss your project with you. Since you, the instructor, are more familiar with your project than we are, you are in the best position to evaluate fair use and make a decision.