Copyright at USU

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Using Digital Resources in CMS


Course materials posted online are subject to copyright law, even if they are posted in a password-restricted system such as Canvas. The following guidelines are not all-inclusive, but are intended to help you make informed copyright decisions.

Digital Environments vs. Physical Environments

When considering whether you should obtain permission to distribute a copyrighted work online, it can help to consider what would be required to distribute the same content physically in a classroom. For example, if you would need copyright clearance to distribute photocopies of a written work to students in your class, you would need permission to distribute the same file online. The same concept applies to images and audio/visual media, although as a rule, further restrictions apply to displaying content, especially audio/visual content, in online settings. For more information on these restrictions, please see the section describing the TEACH Act.


Before you use content of any kind in your course, be sure you know enough about the nature of the work and its copyright owner to make informed copyright decisions.

There are certain circumstances, described below, in which you may not need to permission to use someone else's work. If these circumstances do not apply to your use case, seek permission from the copyright owner before using the content.


Fair Use: Which Way Does the Scale Tip?

According to the fair use provision of U.S. copyright law, you may not need to request permission to use another's work if your usage can reasonably be deemed as "fair." Four factors are considered when determining whether fair use applies.

The purpose and character of the use. If your use of a given work is for nonprofit educational purposes, with access restricted to only your students, fair use is more likely to apply.

The nature of the copyrighted work. Works that are fact-based, published, or out of print are more likely to qualify under fair use than other types of work.

The amount used. Fair use is more likely to apply when only a portion of the work rather than the whole work is used and when that portion does not represent the heart of the work. An electronic version of a single article from a publication or portions of a book (usually one chapter) may pass this test if the work is placed in a password-protected system like Canvas or e-reserves, if copyright restrictions are clearly stated, and if access is limited to only your students for only the duration of the term. It is strongly recommended that permission be requested if the work will be reused term after term.

The effect of the use on the potential market for the copyrighted work. Potential market effect has become one of the most critical considerations in determining fair use cases. Consider carefully whether your use of a work, or widespread use of a similar nature, would result in economic loss to the copyright holder. This fourth factor is especially relevant if the first three factors do not weigh heavily in favor of fair use.

These guidelines are not clearly defined and are highly subject to legal interpretation. It is up to you to consider the four factors as a whole and decide whether the scale tips in favor of fair use. When deciding whether to post copies of digital content in Canvas, or distribute copies in your face-to-face class, consider how your use fits into these four factors. It never hurts to document your decision-making process as a way of showing that you took careful consideration of fair use guidelines before deciding to use content without requesting permission.

However, before you post copies of an article or audiovisual work in Canvas, you should evaluate the possibilities of linking to content rather than copying it, as well as the availability of content that is not under strict copyright limitation. The following are some additional options for providing content on Canvas or in your face-to-face class.


Link to Licensed or Publicly Available Copies

A subscription to an article or another type of work may have already been paid for by the library, or it may be freely accessible to the public on a legitimate website. If so, you can link to the content from your course without having to worry about copyright liability. Note that linking is not the same as copying the content to your course. Creating a copy may have copyright implications. Whenever possible, you should link to a work rather than reproduce it.

Find Creative Commons Works

A growing number of works are produced with a Creative Commons license. This type of license allows the content producer to specify how his or her content can be used, reused, and repurposed. For example, a Creative Commons license on a video may allow for non-commercial use on the condition that attribution is made to the content creator. A good starting place for finding creative commons works is http://search.creativecommons.org/. Be sure to review the license on a given work to see what the unique restrictions are.

Tap Into the Public Domain

A work that is in the public domain can be used without copyright permission. By U.S. law, a work enters the public domain 70 years after the content author has died. Also, anything produced before 1923 is in the public domain. Other public domain works include those produced by the U.S. Government or its employees as part of their jobs. This does not include works produced under a federal grant or those produced by state and local governments.

Other References

For more information, you are encouraged to follow the links below.