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Copyright Resources

Course Readings: No Clear Answers

The most common copyright question the Copyright Committee gets can also be the hardest to answer.  More than anything else we are asked "Is it okay for me to post this reading to my course shell?" and, for good and for ill, it is a question that is often without a clear answer.  Fair use is the only copyright exception that would apply to this kind of use so it really comes down to doing a full and honest fair use analysis. 

Some things that enhance a fair use argument:

  • Make sure that you are using only the portion of the material that you need to meet your educational outcomes.  If the point you're trying to make is made in one or two paragraphs of a larger article, don't post the whole article for convenience.  Post only the relevant parts.
  • Make sure you are directly teaching with the material you post.  Scanning and posting articles that you consider optional or that you won't be using explicitly in your instruction will very much weaken a fair use claim.
  • Always post material in password protected spaces available only to students in that class.  Remove access to the material after the class has ended.
  • Make sure you put a notice of copyright and attribution on anything you post.

Some things that weaken a fair use argument:

  • Is your use substituting for a purchase?  If you weren't scanning and posting the article, would you be requiring students to purchase a book or course pack?  This would weaken a fair use argument.
  • Never post "consumables".  "Consumables" are things like worksheets that are designed to be used once.  This is definitely considered a marketplace substitution.
  • There is a lot of debate about this one but there is a general sense that using the same scanned material term after term without permission weakens a fair use argument.

The Copyright Committee is glad to help talk you through your fair use evaluation of any given course reading.

Remember, too, that many articles and even book chapters can be accessed electronically using the library databases.  Providing a permanent link to this licensed content allows you to avoid dealing with copyright issues altogether and, incidentally, might have the side effect of introducing your students to the wide world of library resources!