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Library Services for Faculty and Staff

Welcome to the Library Services for Faculty and Staff research guide.

Definition of Copyright

According to the U.S. Copyright Office: Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S.Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords
  • prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
  • perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audio­-visual works
  • display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
  • perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission 

4 Factors of Fair Use

Evaluate your own use of copyrighted materials. 



Favors Fair Use

Opposes Fair Use






Creator not credited





Favors Fair Use

Opposes Fair Use

Published work

Unpublished Work



Important to educational objective




Favors Fair Use

Opposes Fair Use

Small Quantity

Large portion or whole work used

Portion not central to entire work

Using most significant portion of work



Favors Fair Use

Opposes Fair Use

User purchased original copy of work

Could replace sale of work

One or few copies made

Numerous copies made

No significant effect on the market for the work

Impairs market potential of the work or derivatives

No similar product marketed (such as – no individual electronic chapter of the book is available for purchase)

Portion used could be easily purchased

Restricted Access (Such as in LMS or password protected)

Posted to open web


Repeated or long-term use


Checklist available at

Fair Use

These are guidelines for portions of lawfully acquired copyrighted works that can be used according to Fair Use as indicated by the U.S. Copyright Office and the Conference on Fair Use.


Amount Suggested to meet Fair Use


Up to 10% or 3 minutes, whichever is less


Up to 10% or 1000 words, whichever is less;
1 chapter out of 10 chapter book

Music/Lyrics/Music Video

Up to 10%, but no more than 30 seconds


No more than 5 images from a single artist;
10% of a published collective works, but no more than 15 works

Data Sets (databases)

Up to 10% or 2500 fields, whichever is less

Copyright Basics

What Is Copyright?

Copyright refers to the exclusive rights to:

  • reproduce a work
  • prepare derivative works based on the original
  • distribute copies to the public
  • perform the work publicly
  • display the work publicly

Copyright protection applies to the following:

  • Books
  • Journals
  • Photographs
  • Art
  • Music
  • Sound recordings
  • Computer programs
  • Websites
  • Motion pictures
  • Choreography
  • Architecture

If you can see it, read it, hear it, or watch it, it’s probably protected by copyright law! Currently, any of the above items are automatically protected, whether or not the creator sought copyright protection or not. Items published prior to March 1, 1989 are protected by copyright if they have the © symbol. Items published prior to 1925 are in the public domain and therefore NOT subject to copyright protection.


  • anything published or produced by the United States Government, including information on websites that end with .gov, may be used freely without securing permission
  • Facts, ideas, or themes may not be copyrighted

Copyright Ownership

Copyright ownership rests with the person who created the work. However, in many cases, the rights to a specific work have been transferred to another entity. For instance, a professor who writes an article that is accepted for publication in a journal may not own copyright to the article — the publisher of the journal typically holds copyright for articles. Therefore, if you needed to seek permission to use the article, you would apply to the publisher, not the author.

Additionally, if you create work as an employee for your workplace, then your workplace may own the copyright. The university's Intellectual Property Rights policy is included in the Faculty Handbook. For information about intellectual property concerning course or curriculum development, please contact the Center for Transformational Learning.


  • Authors of web material enjoy the same copyright protections that the authors of print material do.
  • Just because something is publicly available online, it DOES NOT mean it is in the public domain.
  • Generally, it is safe to link to a website without asking permission, though you should always assign appropriate attribution.
  • Anytime you create a COPY of online material, whether paper or electronic (such as creating a PDF), then you should follow the SAME guidelines for fair use discussed above.
  • Often, authors of web material will explicitly say how they would prefer their content to be used. Follow those guidelines--they may grant you even more freedom that what is typically given under fair use.

Copyright FAQ

How do I make sure the files I upload to Canvas are compliant with SWU's Copyright Policy?

  • Video and audio files should be streamed, rather than posted as files that can be downloaded.
  • You should create all files, including clips, from LEGALLY MADE AND OBTAINED copies of the work. (e.g. you should not upload files from a burned CD, etc.)
  • You may choose to "lock" PDF files so they can be viewed but not downloaded. This is not required.
  • The CTE can assist you with understanding how to upload and integrate all types of files within Canvas. You may contact them at 864-644-5030.

Do I have to get permission from the library to use any copyrighted material in the classroom (online or face-to-face)?

No you do not. Instructors can use many types of copyrighted material in the online classroom. By understanding some of the basics of “fair use” (see section above), you will be able to determine whether your use is appropriate on your own. For the more complicated types of copyrighted material, Rickman Library is available to help faculty determine whether their use is fair, and request permission if it is necessary.

If I fill out the Copyright Clearance and Fair Use form, and I have some checks in the "Weighs Against Fair Use" category. Does that mean I cannot use it?

Perhaps, but not necessarily. You must weigh all four factors of fair use against each other. Just because you have a couple of factors that weigh against fair use doesn’t mean*necessarily* you cannot use the work. The “Copyright Clearance and Fair Use Form” can help you make the determination--if you are still unsure you should contact the library for assistance.

What is public domain?

Works in the public domain are generally those published before 1925. This applies to any type of work in any medium. You can freely use any work in the public domain in your courses. There are some other kinds of works that are considered public domain, such as anything produced by the U.S. Government.

A common myth is that ANYTHING on the web is public domain. This is NOT the case--websites are protected under copyright law in the same way any other text-based items are, such as ebooks, ejournals, etc.

Since MySWU/Canvas is password-protected, I don't have to worry about fair use or copyright, right?

No.  Ccopyright applies to the password-protected learning management system (LMS) as well. Anytime you place a file in a Canvas course, you are making a digital copy of that item. You should look at the flow charts under the "Getting Copyright Clearance" section to determine your course of action.

If I see an article either online or in a journal to which I subscribe, may I copy it and hand it out to my students, or make a PDF of it and put it in my Canvas course?

Yes. Even though you are making a copy, you are doing so within the bounds of fair use. HOWEVER--if you plan to use that item for more than that SINGLE course offering, you must seek permission using the Copyright Clearance and Permissions Form.

You should also just copy ONE article...not the the entire issue of the journal, for instance.

May I scan items and email them to my students directly? It's so much easier for me.

No, you should not. Emailing the article is not appropriate use of peer-to-peer file sharing. To comply with the SWU copyright policy, you should place a PDF of the article within your course. Students registered for your course can then access it behind the password-protected learning management system.

May I make a PDF of web content that I want to use in my class? That way, if the link doesn't work, my students will still have access to the content.

It is considered fair use best practices to provide the link, rather than copying the information and putting it in the course. However, you COULD make a fair use case for putting a PDF of the content in your course for ONE SEMESTER ONLY.

May I embed YouTube videos in my Canvas course? May I show videos in the face-to-face classroom without worrying about copyright?

Yes. Embedding videos in your course or showing them in class does not make a copy of the video. If the owner of the video takes down the content, it will no longer work in your Canvas course or play in your class.

Downloading the video and putting it into your Canvas course permanently would not be acceptable for longer than one semester. You should fill out the Copyright Clearance and Fair Use Form.

I would like to copy the lab manual, workbook, or some other supplemental material that corresponds to the student’s textbooks they are using for the course. They cost so much---I would like to save them some money by scanning in the material and putting the PDF file in the Canvas course. Is this okay?

No. You should not copy and distribute “consumables” such as workbooks, lab manuals, and other types of materials like this--not even for just one semester.

May I stream videos from my personal Netflix account to show in the classroom?

Yes. You can stream a video in this manner in the face-to-face classroom without violating copyright. It is similar to renting a physical copy of the movie and showing it in the classroom.

I have a DVD at my house that I would like to upload and show in my online course. Does this violate copyright?

Maybe. You must follow the fair use guidelines and the guidelines in the TEACH ACT (see sections above) and upload what is considered a “reasonable and limited portion” and you must not use the same DVD (or DVD clip) for MULTIPLE semesters WITHOUT seeking permission.

I would like to embed links in my Canvas course (assignment, discussion, etc.) to a radio broadcast or podcast (like from Is that okay to do?

Yes. You may place links to any website or page in your Canvas course. If the owner of the video takes down the content, it will no longer work in your Canvas course. This is true for radio broadcast or podcast.

I would like to download the mp4 file (or other type of file) of a podcast and put it in my course, so that students can access it in case the link doesn't work. Is that okay to do?

Yes, but for ONE SEMESTER/COURSE OFFERING only. For subsequent offerings, you should fill out the Copyright Clearance and Fair Use Form.

I know we aren't supposed to put PDFs of material in a course, but someone else already posted it online. Can I just link to it?

You can--but consider it carefully. It technically doesn’t violate copyright for you to put a link in your course, but it isn’t ethical, either, since the person who uploaded the content probably isn't following appropriate copyright/fair use guidelines. You should probably use your good judgment and seek appropriate permission.

I would like to pull in images that I found online to enhance the power point files that the publisher sent me with the textbook. This does not violate copyright, right?

Probably not. Use of images in the classroom setting are covered under fair use. HOWEVER—you must not use the images for multiple semesters without getting permission. It would be a good idea to check the terms of use statement from the publisher.

I would like to use the slide presentation that the publisher sent with the textbook for the course, but I need to make edits to make the material more tailored to my teaching style. Is this okay?

It depends. You need to check with the publisher to know for sure.

The TEACH Act and Online/Distance Education

Bottom Line: The TEACH Act makes it easier for instructors to use digital audiovisual materials in online/distance courses in the same way that they might use them in their face-to-face courses.

The TEACH ACT is an amendment to the Copyright Act of 1976. Its purpose was to help universities apply both copyright law and concepts regarding fair use within their distance education courses, as well as in face to face courses that have online components. This includes the use of learning management systems such as CANVAS. It exempts accredited non-profit educational institutions from liability when digitally transmitting a performance or display of a copyrighted work to students officially enrolled in a course. (It does not cover making textual materials available to students.)

HOWEVER, there are many conditions that the copyrighted material must meet in order to be covered by the TEACH Act. The performance or display must be:

  • Part of systematic mediated instructional activity
  • At the direction of or under the actual supervision of the instructor
  • An integral part of a class session
  • A lawfully made copy of the work

The following technological conditions must be met:

  • Digital copies must have technological measures that reasonably prevent recipients from retaining and distributing works beyond the class session (such as streaming video capabilities, “locked” files, etc.)
  • Digital copies made may not interfere with technological protections taken by copyright owners

The following notice must be prominently posted in all online courses with copyrighted material:

“The materials on this course website are only for the use of students enrolled in this course for purposes associated with this course and may not be retained or further disseminated.”

The TEACH Act allows instructors greater freedoms with respect to online education. The principles of the TEACH Act should be applied in addition to the four factors of fair use.