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Faculty Toolkit

In a nutshell

Copyright are the legal protections that allow authors or copyright holder to control the use and reproduction of their work. The purpose of copyright, derived from Article I, §8 of the United States Constitution, is to provide a safe environment in which creativity, learning, and progress can thrive. Using someone else's published work for educational purposes is often acceptable, but you should still consider copyright law whenever you are using someone else's work in your teaching. This guide will help you understand and navigate copyright law, leverage fair use, and employ other strategies when incorporating published materials into your teaching.

Determining if you can use someone else's work comes down to three basic criteria:

  1. If you want to use the work of other authors in your teaching, you should first determine whether the work is protected by copyright law. If it is not, you may use it without permission.  
  2. If it is protected by copyright law, you may still be able to use the work without permission if you can make a fair use argument.  
  3. If the work is protected by copyright law and you cannot make a fair use argument, then you will need to seek permission.

Can I use it in my teaching?

1. Sometimes, copyright does not apply

You do not need permission to use work in several cases:

  • If you are the copyright holder. Please keep in mind that in the case of published works that you authored, you may NOT have retained copyright as a result of your agreement with the publisher.
  • If North Shore Community College is the copyright holder.  Works for hire and documents authored by NSCC.
  • Works governed by a Creative Commons license may often be used without permission; the type of license will specify which uses are permitted.
  • If the material falls into the public domain.  Works in the public domain are not protected by copyright and may be used freely.  This may be because they were in the public domain at the time of creation (such as many government documents or material shared according to the CC0 (Creative Commons license), or because their copyright term has expired.  To determine if a formerly copyright-protected document has entered the public domain, you may wish to consult this helpful chart by Peter Hirtle.
  • Open educational resources are purposely designed to relieve faculty of the responsibility to seek copyright permissions and may be used freely.

2. Making a Fair Use Determination

17 U.S.C. §107 tells us that "the fair use of a copyrighted work...for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright."

To determine whether your intended use of a copyrighted work is a fair use, you should weigh the following considerations: 

  • Purpose: Non-commercial uses at non-profit institutions are favored, and teaching, scholarship, and criticism are explicitly enumerated as non-infringing uses.
  • Nature: It may matter whether the copyrighted work is factual or fictional.  The law favors use of factual materials, such as biographies or documentaries, over highly creative works, such as novels and feature films.
  • Amount: The smaller the amount of the copyrighted work you intend to use, the better.  Even a very small amount can be prohibited, however, if it is considered the "heart" of the work.  You should limit the amount to only what is pedagogically necessary.
  • Market Effect: It may not be a fair use if your intended use would adversely affect the potential market for the copyrighted work. Be wary of photocopying from textbooks, workbooks, and other "consumable" material.

3. Obtaining Permissions

Resources that will help you gain permission to use copyrighted works: