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Copyright, Fair Use, & Teaching: Compliance, Exemption, & Fair Use

The guidelines on this page have been created by the NSCC Library for use by faculty in response to FAQ's about providing students access to course materials.

In a nutshell

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.

Important Disclaimer

The content contained in this guide is for informational purposes only, is subject to interpretation, and does not constitute legal counsel or legal advice. Please consult an attorney for specific situations.

Fair Use Quick Tips

In general, fair use arguments can be made when limited amounts of copyrighted material are used for educational purposes, the audience for which is limited to students enrolled in a particular class (by providing access to the materials in a password-protected environment, such as Blackboard), and offered in formats that are not susceptible to further copying/downloading

Linking to online content does not constitute making a copy, so you should favor links wherever possible.

  • Providing links via Blackboard to online materials (rather than copying or uploading them) and favoring streaming versions (rather than a downloadable format) of audiovisual material is a safe call because no copies are being made. 
  • Uploading PDF's of scanned, print content to Blackboard directly or via the Library's e-reserves service rather than providing physical handouts is a safe call because no copies are being made..
  • Using curricular materials that are OER or are provided by the Library, is a safe call because they are legally obtained for educational purposes. If the Library does not own the the item you need, you can donate a copy or request that the Library purchase it in any format.  


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.

If none of the above cases applies, you still may be able to use the work in question if you can make a fair use argument.

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.

It is important to remember that all four factors must be considered together; no single factor controls the strength of the argument.  In using copyrighted work in your courses, you will often be able to claim a fair purpose (i.e., teaching, scholarship, criticism), but you still must consider the nature of the work, the amount you intend to use, and the effect on the potential market for the copyrighted work. It is always a good idea to document your consideration of the four Fair Use factors at the time of your use of the work and retain for your records; doing so demonstrates your good faith effort to comply with copyright law.

3. Obtaining Permissions

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