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A Framework for Analyzing a Copyright Use

Answer these five questions in order:

Question 1: Is the work protected by copyright?

  • Do you own the copyright?  (Do you really?)

    • Publisher rights: Your publisher may hold the copyright.

    • Work for hire: Your employer may hold the copyright.

    • Students have rights, too… Don't ignore your students' copyrights.

    • Beware: If you find something on a website, the website creator may not be the owner of the copyright of materials on the page.

  • Is it in the public domain?

    • Copyright holder gives up all rights

      • Example: Open Educational Resources (OERs) are "any type  of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them." -UNESCO

    • U.S. Federal government works:

      • Beware: Some information listed on government sites may not be in the public domain (if the work was produced by a non-government contract)

      • Beware: Slogans, emblems, or logos are covered by trademark law, not copyright law.

    • Works with expired term of copyright

      • New works enter the public domain every January 1st!

    • Tools:

Question 2: Is there a specific exception in the law that covers my use?

  • Classroom use exemption, must be:

    • In a classroom (not anywhere else in the school)

    • In person, engaged in face-to-face instruction (not online or via distance)

    • At a non-profit educational institution (not at a for-profit)

    • Using a legitimately, legally-acquired copy

    • Performed or displayed (not distributed, handed out)

  • TEACH Act (distance / online education)

Question 3. Is there a license that covers my use?

Question 4. Is my use covered by Fair Use? (Reasonable and limited use)

  • Consider these four factors (see Fair Use Checklist):

    • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

    • The nature of the copyrighted work;

    • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

    • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Question 5. Do I need permission from the copyright owner?

  • Locate the copyright owner, explain your intended use, and request permission. (See sample letter below)

    • No response or answer is no: reconsider use (is there something you can do to make it a fair use?) or choose another source.

    • Be aware of mashups: each element may require permission.

    • Pay for use: Copyright Clearance Center

Sample Permission Request Letter

Materials Derived from:

Materials on this guide have been derived with permission from:
“Copyright for Educators & Librarians” by Kevin Smith, M.L.S., J.D., Lisa A. Macklin, J.D., M.L.S., Anne Gilliland, JD, MLS, at Duke University and Emory University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Coursera.

Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike International License
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.