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Copyright: Basic Facts for Teaching

The following are some fairly common copyright scenarios.

 1. You want to show a DVD in class, but the library doesn’t own a copy. You rent the DVD at Blockbuster. Are you allowed to show this in class?

  • Yes, a rented copy is a legal, legitimate copy, and may be shown in the classroom.

2. You are teaching the same class online, and want your students to watch the same DVD. Are you permitted to digitize and stream this film and make it available in Canvas? 

  • No. The TEACH act permits the digitizing and streaming of “limited and reasonable” portions of “dramatic literary or musical works”. Any feature or educational film will fall into this category.

3. You just had an article you wrote appear in a peer reviewed journal. To enhance your vita, you decide to post a pdf of the article on your personal webpage. May you do so?

  • It depends upon the contract you signed with the publisher of the article. If the contract permits you to post a pdf on a public site, then you may do so. You may be permitted to post a pre-print of the article, or no version at all. You need to negotiate the contracts you sign with publishers to make sure you have the rights you need to use your work in any manner you choose.

4. You want to use a number of slides in your online class. You digitize the images and make them all available to your students through Canvas. Is this permitted? 

  • Yes. TEACH permits the digitization and display of images in the same amount that would be used in the face-to-face context, as long as the content is provided only to students in the class via a protected web site.

5. You are teaching a course that consists of screening a number of DVDs for your students. As a service to the rest of your campus community, you decide to advertise these screenings and open them up. Is this permitted? You do not plan to charge admission—does this change your answer?

  • No. Section 110 of the copyright law allows the screening of entire films, as long as they are legitimate copies, but only to students registered for a class. Inviting others from the wider community makes this a public performance, and requires permission. Charging admission is not an issue.

6. The textbook you use for your course is very expensive, and you use only half of it anyway. You decide to scan and make five of the ten chapters available to your students through Canvas. Is this permitted?

  • You would conduct a fair use analysis, and would most likely come up with the answer No. Even though this use is for educational, non-profit use, you are copying a substantial proportion of the work, and you are affecting the income of the copyright holder, who would have made money from the sale of the textbooks.

7. The New York Times had a highly relevant article appear. You photocopy the article and hand out copies to your students. May you do so?

  • Yes. Fair use permits the photocopying and distribution of an article to students in a class. Because you don’t want to kill trees, you choose to scan the article and send it out via email to your students so they can read it before class. Is this o.k.? Maybe. If you actually decide to scan the article and post it on Canvas, you would have a better fair use argument, because you would not be distributing it beyond those who are registered for the class, and thus are not having as great an impact on the market value of the work. If you decide to use the same article the next semester, you can  send out a link to the article through the libraries’ subscription database. Is this permissible? Linking to any library resource is not only permissible, it is highly encouraged.

8. One of your students wrote a terrific paper—so good that you would like to use it as an example for next semester’s students. May you scan and post the paper on your Cavas site?

  • Not without the student’s permission. They own the copyright to their own papers, even if they did write it in response to an assignment. You may not reuse their work without their permission.

9. You are the faculty advisor for the French club. Your club members decide they would like to watch Amelie as part of their next meeting. You meet in the student union. May you screen the film without permission?

  • No. This would be considered a public performance, because the screening is in a publicly accessible place and open to anyone.
  • The same French club meets in your home, and they want to watch Amelie. Does the location change anything related to copyright and permissions for screening? The location makes all the difference in this case. Watching a video in a private home is considered home use, and thus no permission is needed.

10. You are going to be attending a conference and will have to miss a class session. The students have been working really hard on group projects, so you decide to give them a break and show them a movie just for fun. Is this permitted?

  • No. The law permits viewing of whole films in the classroom, but the content must be of relevance to the material being taught. So, showing Free Willy just for fun is a violation of copyright, but showing it in conjunction with a unit on whales may not be.

11. You would like your students to review a number of film clips from the same film for your next class. How many film clips can you use? How long can they be?

  • There is no right answer to this. Fair use permits the reproduction of copyrighted works after an analysis of the four factors. You would need to conduct a fair use analysis and come to your own conclusion. But, you are not permitted to circumvent copy protection on a DVD in order to obtain the clips. If you do not have access to a DVD without copy protection, you would have to digitize clips from an analog VHS tape. 


 This guide is for informational purposes only.

 It should not be used in place of the advice of legal counsel.