Copyright guidance

The following information has been taken from the Marygrove College Online Teaching Guide (pdf), which was developed by the Online Learning Standards Committee and the Educational Technology Services department.

Copyright issues

Copyright law in the United States operates under The Copyright Act of 1976 ( Section 107 of that law gives educators (and journalists) special exemptions from the law under the doctrine of Fair Use. ( Within limits, educators may use copyrighted works without first obtaining permission of the copyright holder. Four criteria are listed for determining whether copyrighted materials have been used legally under this doctrine:

1. Purpose and character of the use;
2. Nature of the materials used;
3. Amount and importance of the part used; and
4. Effect on the market of the use.

For more information on the four factors governing Fair Use, see the Copyright & Fair Use page from Stanford University Libraries:

Another useful resource is the Fair Use Checklist ( created by Professor Kenneth Crews and the staff of the Copyright Management Center at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Copyright and online instruction

In November 2002, the US Congress passed the Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act ( It is important for online instructors to become familiar with the law as they develop classes. The TEACH Act expands the Fair Use doctrine to cover distance education. In general, the exemptions given for face-to-face instruction now apply in an online environment.

Obtaining copyright permission

While the Fair Use doctrine in current copyright law enables educators to use copyrighted materials without first seeking permission, it is also legal to use any materials where permission has been obtained. The Copyright Clearance Center ( will, for a fee, obtain permission for educators. The Copyright Management Center at Indiana University/Purdue University ( gives excellent information on how to seek copyright permissions. The US Copyright Office ( allows one to search a database for copyright ownership.

Getting copyright for your own works

The US Copyright Office website ( also has information on registering a work for copyright. Whether or not a work is registered, educators should post a copyright notice on their works. Such a notice reminds students and others of the importance of copyright. Academic and intellectual piracy can be at least be deterred with clearly posted notices.

Online course instructors are responsible for identifying copyrighted materials used in their courses and for either citing that material appropriately or obtaining written permission to use it online prior to the start of the course. The course must be in compliance with the TEACH act (

Further reading (compiled from Ben Wieder, published in "What You Don't Know About Copyright, but Should," Chronicle of Higher Education, May 29, 2011)

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