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Questions and Answers

 
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1. May I make copies of a copyrighted article, story, poem or book chapter and hand them out to my class? How much may I copy?

2. Is it legal to post copyrighted articles or stories for an online class?
3. May I put a textbook on reserve in the library?
4. How can I tell if something is copyrighted?
5. How do I get permission to use a copyrighted item?
6. How do I copyright something?
7. If I develop course materials, who owns them, me or DCCCD?
8. May I link to another website from my website?
9. Are websites copyrighted?
10. Is it legal to copy a graphic or photo off a website, or scan it from a book or article, and use it in a class PowerPoint presentation?
11. May I copy a graphic or photo off a website, or scan it from a book or article, and include it on a Web page I create?
12. Is it legal to show films or videos in class?
13. May I use films or videos in my online course?
14. If a textbook publisher sends me supplemental learning resources, such as CDs, may I use the content on my website or on eCampus (Blackboard)?
15. May I use my student's work - such as a research paper - in the classroom or on my website?

1. May I make copies of a copyrighted article, story, poem or book chapter and hand them out to my class? How much may I copy?

Yes, you may, if the use is permitted under the fair use section of U.S. copyright law. There is no simple answer to this question; every time you want to use copyrighted material in class, you must consider whether the use meets the four factors of fair use. Although there are rules of thumb that can help you decide how much of a copyrighted work you can safely use, these rules are not absolute.

If you need help determining whether an item you wish to copy fits within fair use guidelines, try visiting these Web sites:

2. Is it legal to post copyrighted articles or stories for an online class?

It depends. In each separate instance, you need to consider the use in the context of copyright law.

You may test the intended use against the "four factors" to see if fair use applies. Almost always, whether it is a fair use will be a judgment call. You can use the Checklist for Fair Use from Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) as a guide; if most of your check marks are in the "Favoring Fair Use" column, your use is probably safe. (The websites noted in question #1, above, may be helpful, also.)

However, keep in mind that unless you use technology to limit access to your website, materials posted on the Web will be widely accessible by people all over the world. In effect, you would be distributing the information broadly, thus affecting the market for that work (see the fourth factor under fair use).

The TEACH Act, passed in 2002, gives educators more leeway in using copyrighted materials in online classes and other digital domains, with certain strict provisions. IUPUI's Checklist for Compliance With the TEACH Act or North Carolina State University's TEACH Act Toolkit can help you determine whether your use meets the conditions of this act, but as with fair use, there is no black-and-white answer.

You also may wish to consult the Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia or Educational Fair Use Guidelines for Distance Learning created at the Conference for Fair Use (CONFU). However, be aware that the CONFU guidelines are not law, and their use is controversial; see the CONFU overview in the UT System's Copyright Crash Course for more information.

3. May I put a textbook on reserve in the library?

Yes, under the first sale doctrine (section 109(a) of the Copyright Act of 1976), faculty members may place textbooks on reserve in the library. 

This section also permits libraries that acquire books by purchase or gift to lend them to users.

4. How can I tell if something is copyrighted?

It's not always easy to do. Some people think an item must have a copyright symbol on it to be covered by copyright, but that's not true. Usually, if you want to know if something is copyrighted, you have to know when it was published. (A chart by Lolly Gasaway, University of North Carolina, defines the length of copyright.)

After copyright has expired, the item passes into the public domain and may be freely used and copied. Other materials not covered by copyright (in the public domain) are federal government documents.

Stanford University's website provides a good explanation of public domain and how it works.

5. How do I get permission to use a copyrighted item?

Please contact the DCCCD Legal Office at 214-860-2470 for guidance.

6. How do I copyright something?

Each time you write or create an original work of authorship, legal copyright protection vests immediately and automatically. Should you feel the need to protect your work, or if you plan to publish it, the U.S. Copyright Office recommends that you register your work. You can register your work online via the U.S. Copyright Office's Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) or get information about alternate methods at the same site.

7. If I develop course materials, who owns them, me or DCCCD?

It depends on the circumstances in which the course materials were created. If they were developed within the scope of your employment, they would typically be considered "work made for hire," and the rights to them would be owned by DCCCD. If, on the other hand, you create materials for a project outside of your employment, without the benefit of district facilities, time or resources, you would own the copyright.

The district's Conflict of Interest policy (DBD - local) includes important information about "district-supported works" and rights agreements.

8. May I link to another website from my website?

In most cases, yes. Links between websites are an essential component of the World Wide Web, and the courts have generally ruled that linking does not constitute copyright infringement. However, there are some exceptions, such as linking directly to an image in such a way that it isn't clear the image resides on another website. For more information on this topic, see the Ball State University Web site or Bitlaw.

9. Are websites copyrighted?

The content on a website - including text, graphics, video and music - is usually considered copyrighted, just like printed materials, because it's fixed in a tangible form. The exceptions would be if the owner explicitly puts the content in the public domain or copylefts it, or the copyright has expired.

10. Is it legal to copy a graphic or photo off a website, or scan it from a book or article, and use it in a class PowerPoint presentation?

In a face-to-face teaching situation, the answer is generally yes. Section 110 of U.S. copyright law provides an exemption for the performance or display of copyrighted works in a traditional classroom setting.

For an online class, putting a copyrighted graphic or photo in a PowerPoint presentation is probably OK if the use meets the requirements of the TEACH Act. (Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis provides a Checklist for Compliance With the TEACH Act on its website that you may find helpful, or you may want to consult North Carolina State University's TEACH Act Toolkit.)

If the work is in the public domain, you may reproduce it freely.

11. May I copy a graphic or photo off a website, or scan it from a book or article, and include it on a Web page I create?

It depends. In each separate instance, you need to consider the use in the context of copyright law. Images scanned from a book or article and content on Web pages, including graphics and photos, are generally copyrighted (see question #9).
 
If your Web page is personal or provides general information (such as a departmental Web page), using a copyrighted image will most likely require permission. If your Web page is designed to be used as part of formal instruction for a course, you may be able to post a graphic or photo under the provisions of fair use or the TEACH Act (see question #2).

However, keep in mind that unless you use technology to limit access to your website, materials posted on the Web will be widely accessible by people all over the world. In effect, you would be distributing the information broadly, thus affecting the market for that work (see the fourth factor under fair use).
 
If the work is in the public domain, you may reproduce it freely.

12. Is it legal to show films or videos in class?

Yes. Section 110 (1) (PDF - 659KB) of the Copyright Act of 1976 allows educators to show copyrighted movies, without permission, as part of face-to-face teaching activities, as long as:

  • the course is being taught at a nonprofit educational institution,
  • the film is shown in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction and
  • the copy of the movie is a lawful copy.

However, a clearance or license is needed to show movies outside of a classroom situation (for example, for student club activities), even if the movie is being shown to informally educate students.

13. May I use films or videos in my online course?

Using a small portion of a film or video as part of an online class is probably safe. However, for each instance, you must consider whether the use is covered by fair use or is allowed under the TEACH Act, or perhaps use the CONFU guidelines to assist you (see question #2 for more information).

14. If a textbook publisher sends me supplemental learning resources, such as CDs, may I use the content on my website or on eCampus (Blackboard)?

The TEACH Act does not directly address the use of digital educational works such as supplemental learning resources. (See FAQs #7 and #22 in North Carolina State University's TEACH Act Toolkit.) If you want to reproduce the content found in the supplemental resources beyond the limits established by fair use, you must obtain specific permission from the publisher or copyright holder. Note that publishers will often grant permission for such use as part of the terms of the license (for instance, Blackboard grants permission to use content from "Open Access Cartridges"). When in doubt, contact the publisher or copyright holder for permission.

15. May I use my student's work - such as a research paper - in the classroom or on my Web site?
 
Yes, as long as you recognize that most student work is protected by copyright and treat it accordingly. Your best bet is to obtain the student's permission, not only out of respect for the student's legal rights, but also as a courtesy.

Want to suggest a question for this page? Please send it to April Ellis, senior Web editor.