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Copyright for Educators: A Guide to the Law and Fair Use

This guide leads to resources that will help educators learn more about copyright and fair use and may therefore be of help in answering questions about using copyrighted content in the classroom.

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As an online instructor you probably have - or will have - copyright questions from time to time. What sort of questions?

  • Can I post a chapter from a book to my coursesite?
  • Can I insert a clip from a feature film into my presentation slides?
  • How can I use e-reserves to better comply with copyright?
  • Why would I want to use licensed library content instead of my own scan of the same content?

Because copyright is a complex subject, made more complex by a fair amount of gray area around what and what is not possible, there are often more questions than there are good answers.

This guide is designed to provide faculty and other at Temple University with an introduction to copyright law, fair use and creative commons licensing.

Copyright balances the rights of creators with the rights of the public to use a work without permission or payment. Under copyright, authors have the right to control the use of their work, subject to the exceptions permitted under the law. While copyright issues can be complex, everyone needs to understand the basics. Failure to comply with copyright law can lead to substantial legal penalties for Temple university.

While the University expects its faculty and staff to comply with the provisions of copyright law, as a nonprofit educational institution we need to be aware that educators are afforded certain rights for the re-use of copyrighted content under the fair use provisions of the law. This guide will help faculty to be more aware of how they appropriately share copyrighted content to advance learning without violating the rights of copyright holders.

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

Virtual instruction is when a course is taught either solely online or when components of face-to-face instruction are taught online such as with Blackboard and other course management systems.

Copyright restrictions for those teaching virtually are somewhat different owing to the provisions of the TEACH act.

The Technology Education and Copyright Harmonization Act, is a part of the copyright law. The basic premise behind TEACH is to allow comparable instruction in the online environment as to what takes place in a traditional classroom or face-to-face instruction. One of the major requirements of the law is that materials can only be digitally transmitted to students officially registered in the course. 

Otherwise TEACH can offer virtual instructors more leeway in the fair use of copyright material for education.

This FAQ page on TEACH will provide more information about what virtual instructors can and cannot do with copyrighted material.

As an online educator you will eventually have some questions about your ability to use a copyrighted work in your course.

Because there is a great deal of gray area surrounding copyright, many questions are generated by instructors?

Can I provide a clip from a feature film?

How many chapters of a book can I scan and put on my course site?

Can I share my Netflix account with students so they can watch a documentary?

Throughout this guide there will be either information that may answer these questions or it will point to sources of information - of which there are many - that might provide some guidance. 

When in doubt, you may want to contact your subject specialist librarian at Temple Libraries about the copyright question. Your subject specialist librarian - see the link below to get to the list of specialists - may know the answer or may advise you to seek advice from the University Counsel. The good news is that many copyright questions have been asked before and the answers or guidelines are available.

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Assistive/Adaptive Technologies Statement

This learning guide is accessible to people with disabilities. Library Research Guides are compliant with Section 508 of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The videos found within this guide may be set to provide captioning and transcripts. This guide should be accessible using common assistive technology devices.

Copyright Basics for Online Educators

There are many videos about copyright and fair use on YouTube. Many of them are not particularly good - and some are inaccurate. This one was produced by another library - but one of the strong points is that it points to the best way to avoid copyright issues:

1 - Use content in the public domain

2 - Use content with a Creative Commons License

3 - Confirm that your use of copyrighted content is allowable under Fair Use Guidelines

4 - Use licensed library content - like articles in databases (JStor, Academic Search Premier, etc), chapters in e-books, video in streaming media databases, etc.

Contact Information

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Steven Bell
Charles Library, Administrative Suite 360