Copyright Guide

Copyright law guarantees that the creator of a work has the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute the work.

Copyright applies to use in the classroom, too: we can use something for educational purposes and still be in violation of the law. It's important we respect the rights of copyright holders and use copyrighted works legally.

Copyright Basics

When is it okay to use or copy someone else's work?

You can use another's work if any of these are true:

What you are doing is considered fair use

The work is in the public domain

You have express permission from the copyright owner

The work you are using is an idea, fact, or data

Those first two cases - Fair Use and Public Domain - are the ones that we appeal to most often in an academic setting.

What is Fair Use?

Using a copyrighted work without permission is allowed under certain conditions: this is termed Fair Use. Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law tells us to consider four factors that will each either support or oppose fair use:

The purpose and character of the use
For example, academic use favors fair use, but commercial use weighs against it

The nature of the copyrighted work
Using a fact-based work favors fair use more than using a creative work

The amount used in relation to the work as a whole
Using a chapter favors fair use, whereas several chapters weighs against it

The effect upon the potential market for the copyrighted work
Will the author lose income because of your use? If so, it weighs against fair use.

After each of these factors are evaluated, if you find that a majority of the factors favor fair use, then no permission is needed to use the work. For more details and help determining if your use is fair, try consulting one of these online resources:

Fair use overview from Stanford University Libraries

Fair use description from

Fair use analysis from Davidson College


What is Public Domain?

Most commonly, Public Domain refers to works with expired copyright or no copyright at all, such as most works published before 1923. No permission whatsoever is needed to copy or use public domain works.

To determine if your work is in the public domain you might try consulting one of these helpful guides:

Digital slider from Library Copyright


Some examples of Public Domain include ideas and facts, the English language, the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven, the Mona Lisa, and the patents on powered flight.


When do I need to get permission from the owner of a work, and how do I get it?

If a work is not in the public domain and your use of a work is not considered fair use, you will need to request permission from the copyright holder to reproduce or distribute the work. Try using this sample permission letter, adapted from UMUC's sample letter. If you aren't sure who the copyright holder is, try looking up the work on the Copyright Clearance Center's Pay-per-Use service. Remember that it is your responsibility to contact the copyright holder when permission is needed.


Information for Faculty

As Christians and educators, we need to understand what is acceptable and ethical when using copyrighted materials in the classroom. Some frequently asked questions are below, but you can also find out more information at the Copyright Office's Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians guide.

When should I be concerned about copyright infringement?

You should consider copyright laws every time you use materials created by someone else. For example when:

Posting materials on Blackboard

Providing online course reserves to students

Giving handouts to students in a class

Sharing an article in print or via email

Putting an image into a paper or presentation

Posting an image or article on a blog or website

Showing a video to a class or other campus group

Printing an item in an anthology

Transferring an older media to a new format


This information is from Davidson College Libraries

What can I put on the FHU Library's online course reserves?

When we place a work in our online reserves we are digitally reproducing it, so it is subject to copyright laws. As with other uses, the material has to be in the public domain, it has to meet fair use criteria, or you need to get permission from the copyright holder. As a general rule of thumb, we put these types of materials in our secure online course reserves:

Articles you retrieve from one of our online databases

Articles photocopied from a journal, as long as they fall under fair use amounts

Individual chapters or brief sections from books that you or the library owns

Short stories or poems, as long as they fall under fair use lengths


Additionally, the library does not put the same material on reserve for the same class in subsequent semesters without permission from the copyright holder. Please note that it is the responsibility of the instructor to contact the copyright holder anytime permission is needed. Try using this sample permission letter, adapted from UMUC's sample letter, when requesting permission from a publisher.

The Library adds a copyright statement at the end of all online reserves. The Library reserves the right to refuse an item for reserves if it believes the item is not in compliance with copyright law.

What should I consider when posting materials to Blackboard?

All items posted on Blackboard must meet several criteria. They must:

Be limited to students enrolled in the course

Be legally obtained

Be free for student use

Meet criteria for free use or have permission of the copyright holder

Include a full citation and a copyright notice


In addition, you may only copy reasonable portions of the work. According to the Agreement on Guidelines for Classroom Copyright in Not-for-Profit Educational Institutions a reasonable portion is not more than one chapter from a book (less than 2,500 words) or an excerpt from a book (10% of the work; not more than 1,000 words); one article from a single journal or newspaper issue (less than 2,500 words); one short story (less than 2,500 words), essay (less than 2,500 words), or poem (250 words or less) from a collection. For audiovisual media on blackboard, a general rule is up to 10% or 3 minutes of a video and up to 10% or 30 seconds of music.

If you would like to provide the full text, a great option is to provide a link to the item in one of our databases or as an eBook.

This information is from Davidson College Libraries

Can I store or share digital information anywhere else?

The requirements for Blackboard and online reserves would apply to any other digital host you might use, such as Flickr, YouTube, or Google Documents. All works should be in the public domain or meet criteria for fair use and include a copyright notice.

To learn more about copyright infringement on YouTube and similar media, check out Copyright School (a fun video featuring Happy Tree Friends).

This information is from Davidson College Libraries

What do I need to know about photocopies and handouts?

The requirements for Blackboard and Online reserves would apply to any copies or handouts you might use, such as journal articles, poems, or quotes. All works should be in the public domain or meet criteria for fair use and include a complete citation and copyright notice.

Am I allowed to show a movie clip or other video to my class?

Yes, but there are some limitations. The showing must be on campus in a classroom and part of regular class instruction. It may not be open to the public. Further, the copy used must be lawfully made, such as movies from the AV Library, Netflix, or a rental store. Be sure to also take advantage of our subscription to Films on Demand, which you can access online from your classroom - no need to get a DVD! You might also try Discovery Education and some of the other video databases on our Video and Multimedia page.


If you are showing a video to a public audience or in a setting not related to teaching, you will need to obtain public performance rights.

This information is from the University of Missouri Kansas City Libraries

Can I convert older formats to digital formats?

In most cases, no. Changing the format of a work is considered reproduction, which is protected by copyright. For instance, converting a VHS to DVD without permission from the copyright holder is an infringement of copyright. However, if the older format is obsolete, meaning the equipment is no longer being sold, the library can make a reproduction. In that case, if it is made into a digital format, that copy may not leave the library. There are other exceptions made for libraries and archives.

This information is from American Libraries Magazine.