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Step-by-Step Guide to Copyright Compliance

for Electronic Course Materials

Faculty are responsible for ensuring that their course materials comply with copyright law.

Restrict access

If copyrighted materials are placed on the web, access must be restricted to authorized users. Learning Management Systems such as  Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, or Catalyst have functions that limit access to students enrolled in a class or specifically designated by the instructor.

Post a copyright notice

The example wording below contains the basic requirements:

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the use of copyrighted materials including copying and distribution.  Fair use (Section 107) allows for limited use of copyrighted materials without the permission of the copyright owner.  Individuals using copyrighted materials in excess of fair use may be liable for copyright infringement.

Evaluate each work for copyright compliance every quarter

The University of Washington uses a five-pronged approach to complying with copyright law for electronic materials:

    1. Licensed materials

    The UW Libraries license a variety of electronic materials for course use. To find out if your readings are licensed:

    2. Openly Accessible Materials

    – Open Educational Material:  In the past few years there has been a large increase in the amount of open-accessible academic works.  To learn more about Open Educational Materials, visit the Open Educational Resources and Open Textbooks or Streaming Video Guide: Free for All guides.

    – Public Domain:   Material in the public domain can be scanned and used for courses without copyright restrictions. In general, government publications and older materials are in the public domain.  Cornell University has an excellent chart listing copyright terms and when materials pass into the public domain.

    3. Fair use

    The library policy on reserve readings is derived from the fair use provisions of the United States Copyright Act of 1976. Section 107 of the Copyright Act expressly permits the making of multiple copies for classroom use:

    Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified in that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include–

      1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
      2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
      3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
      4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

    The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

    There are no hard and fast rules about weighing the four factors to determine if a particular use is fair. Scanning one chapter of a book or one article from a journal issue for an online course reading is generally considered a fair use — note that licenses govern the use of electronic versions of journals and books and links can usually be made directly to those resources.  Columbia University Libraries have a useful checklist to help instructors make informed decisions about fair use.

    4. Obtaining permission

    If a reading is not licensed or in the public domain and the use is not fair, instructors must get permission from the copyright holder in order to use it as a course reading. The easiest way to do this is to put the reading in a course pack. The cost of copyright royalties is passed on to the students.

    More information about Obtaining Copyright Permission is available from the UW Law Library.

    Check the Alternatives tab for information about other options for providing access to content.

    5. Alternatives

    For print materials:  The Libraries may be able to purchase an electronic copy of your course material.  If that isn’t feasible, material can be placed on print reserve.  Contact your library subject selector for possible purchase of material.   The University Bookstore also has many alternatives to the purchase of new textbooks including print rentals and electronic textbooks.  You may also want to consider Open Educational Resources and Open Textbooks.

    For media: The Libraries may already have or may be able to acquire streaming media for your course.  For more information go to the UW Libraries Streaming Video Guide.  UW Tacoma streaming reserves information.  There are also low cost commercial alternatives such as Netflix, Amazon or Hulu that might also have the needed content.  Check the Can I Stream It web site for more information.