Use Your Copy Rights

In your teaching, you probably confront questions about how to share legitimately with your students articles, video, music, images, and other intellectual property created by others.

Sorting out what you can or can’t do is often confusing. Lack of clear-cut answers may translate into delays, doubts, fear of liability, and decisions to err on the side of caution and non-use.

But frequently you do not need to get permission or pay a fee. Use rights may have been licensed by your library or reserved under law.

This guide offers you some tips on when works can be used lawfully in your teaching without requesting permission or incurring additional cost.

Keep It Simple--Link When Possible

In many cases, you can eliminate the need for permission or fee by simply giving your students a link to the work instead of making copies of it. For example:

  • Your library already may have paid for a subscription license that entitles you and your students to online access. Check your library’s Web site to see if the work you wish to use is available there without charge.
  • Even if your library hasn’t purchased access, the work may be available for free on a legitimate Web site, such as your institutional repository or another online open archive, the author’s homepage, or an open access journal. Most sites allow students to print a copy for personal use.
  • If your library has not licensed access and you can’t link to the work for free, contact the library’s electronic reserves department about whether they can arrange access for your students.

Consider retaining the rights you need to place your own work in an open archive and share it with your students. The SPARC Author Addendum is one means of securing these rights.


When Linking Won't Do

If linking isn’t the answer, there’s still hope. Here are several common situations in which you are free to make copies for your students or use works in the classroom without permission or fee:

Uses permitted by license

Use of electronic resources today is commonly governed, not just by copyright, but also by licenses between owners and users. Your use rights can differ from license to license. Commonly  a publisher’s or aggregator’s license with a research library will allow faculty and their students to:

  • Print a reasonable amount of a work.
  • Share it with other authorized users covered by the license (typically, all faculty and enrolled students are authorized users).

With the potential for creators to offer their works directly to users on the Web, use of Creative Commons licenses is growing (www.creative Using a Creative Commons notice, creators specify the rights conveyed to users — such as to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work, provided attribution is given.

Fair uses

When the circumstances might reasonably be judged as fair, you may use copyrighted works in your teaching without obtaining permission. US law lists four fair use factors — described in the shaded area at right — that will help you evaluate whether your use is permitted. Here are a few examples of uses that are generally regarded as fair:

  • copying reasonable portions of longer works for your class;
  • copying a timely article (or one you’ve recently discovered that is relevant for your class) when it’s unreasonable to expect a sufficiently rapid reply to a request for permission; and
  • copying a graphic or an image from a work to display in your lectures.

Public domain

Works in the public domain are not protected by copyright, so you can use them freely. Here are examples of public domain works:

  • Under US law, copyright expires 70 years after the death of the author. At that point, works automatically enter the public domain. As a practical matter, all works published in the US before 1923 are now in the public domain.
  • Works by the US Government or created by its employees as part of their job are in the public domain. Note, however, that this does not apply to most works by federal grant recipients or contractors or to works of most other governments, including state and local governments.


Before You Pay for Use Rights

Check with your library to explore whether your use rights have already been paid for or whether there are alternatives to paying a fee.

Stephanie L. Gross, Librarian, Scholarly Communication

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Stephanie Gross
Electronic Reserves & Scholarly Communication L303
Yeshiva University Libraries
500 W. 185th Street
New York NY 10033 USA
Website Skype Contact: stephanie.l.gross

About your rights to reproduce material in this guide

This brochure is © 2007 Association of Research Libraries and is available for your re-use under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial 2.5 License ( licenses/by-nc/2.5/). This means you are free to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work and make derivative works under the following conditions:

  • You must attribute the work to the Association of Research Libraries.
  • You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Any of these conditions can be waived

if you obtain permission from the Association of Research Libraries. Your fair use and other rights are in no way affected by the above.