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Copyright for Higher Education

This guide provides faculty and staff with information about their rights and responsibilities when using copyrighted materials in face to face or online classes.

Copyrighted Materials in the Classroom

Typed word "Copyright"

Under Fair Use and the Teaching Exemption, you have a lot of flexibility for using copyrighted materials in your class without obtaining permissions as long as the use is for instruction and the copies used were legally obtained, and you are teaching at a non-profit institution. Instructors must also include attribution and copyright warnings for all use of copyrighted materials.


You can show all or part of videos as part of regular instruction for specific classes that are not open to the general public, and should take place in a location designated for instruction on campus. You can use rented videos or videos checked out from the library, or even movies streamed from Netflix or other sources of legal content. Avoid videos that include infringing content, like many found on YouTube, Vimeo, or similar services.


Copyright Guidelines and Resources provide an idea, albeit an imperfect one, of how instructors can use printed copyrighted materials for instruction. Faculty can generally copy a chapter from a book, an article from a periodical (magazine, newspaper, journal), short works like essays or poems, and charts, drawings, of pictures from sources like books, periodicals, or newspapers. Teachers can also generally provide one copy per student for specific instructional purposes, as long as the material is brief (2,500 words or less, or 10% of the total work), spontaneous (the inspiration of a single instructor with no time to request permissions), and is only used for one class at a single educational institution.

You can find more details in this Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines for Teachers chart.

Copyrighted Materials in Online Courses

Using copyrighted materials in online courses, hybrid courses, and companion shells in Canvas is not as well defined as classroom use of those materials. Because online courses do not receive the educational exception outlined in Section 110(1), instructors must apply Fair Use guidelines for any copyrighted materials they use (apply the four factors listed on the Fair Use tab). In practice this means instructors should provide only brief amounts of material, include proper attribution, use only materials that are directly related to instruction, that the material is available for only the time period needed, and that materials produced for use online are not used unless under license. Instructors must also provide a copyright warning and advise students not to share copyrighted works outside of the class.

Electronic access suggestions:

Because Canvas does not currently allow instructors to embed files while also restricting students from downloading them, instructors have several options for providing access to electronic copies of copyrighted materials.

  1. Provide links to legal copies of materials online rather than copying them. In the case of YouTube you can provide a URL or use the embedded code option. Embedding does not copy the material, but embeds the link into the course so that students do not have to open additional windows to view the material.
  2. Use materials that the PSC libraries license for student, faculty, and staff use. Instructors can provide links to any of thousands of videos through Films on Demand, or links to e-books or articles in library databases.
  3. Use open access materials by linking to them or making legal copies as provided by the license for the materials.
  4. Use works in which the author grants reuse rights under a Creative Commons license.
  5. Use public domain materials (see the Public Domain tab for more).