This guide is a collection of resources to help you assess whether and how you can use a copyrighted work.
If you determine that a work is the type protected by copyright and it has not fallen into the public domain, then you still may be able to use it with certain limitations. For a discussion of particular types of uses and limitations on those uses, see the resources on this page.
Providing a URL to outlink to a resource is likely permissible under copyright law because it probably will not be considered use of copyrighted material. See Ticketmaster Corp. v. Tickets.com, Inc. 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6483, at *20 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 6, 2003)("A URL is simply an address, open to the public, like the street address of a building, which, if known, can enable the user to reach the building. There is nothing sufficiently original to make the URL a copyrightable item, especially the way it is used.").
However, you should avoid linking to an infringing site to avoid potential claims of contributory infringement.
Section 107 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 107, allows use of copyrighted works for certain limited purposes, such as teaching and scholarship, but only if the use is fair as determined by applying the following four factor test:
1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Section 108 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 108, provides exceptions to copyright for certain types of reproduction by libraries for preservation, replacement, or private study. Section 108 exceptions have conditions and limitations, so carefully read the statutory language before relying on it. For example, Section 108 does not apply to systematic reproduction or distribution of multiple copies. Also, Section 108 may not apply to musical, pictorial, graphic or sculptural works, or a motion picture or other audiovisual work unless the work fits within certain categories. See 17 U.S.C. § 108.
Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 110(1), provides a limitation on copyright for in person classroom uses. Specifically, performance or display of a work by teachers or students in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a non-profit educational institution in a classroom or similar instructional space is not copyright infringement, unless in the case of a motion picture or other audio visual work, the copy of the work used was not lawfully made and the person responsible for displaying it knew or had reason to know it was not lawfully made. See 17 U.S.C. § 110(1).
Section 110(2) of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 110(2), part of the TEACH Act, allows performances or displays of copyrighted material for distance education. Section 110(2) excludes from copyright infringement certain performances or displays that are part of transmitted mediated instructional activity, which may include course web pages. There are a considerable number of limitations and conditions that apply to the TEACH Act, which are detailed in the resources below. In particular, the TEACH Act only applies to performances or displays analogous to those in a live classroom. It does not apply to material that students typically purchase or acquire for their independent use and retention, such as textbooks or coursepacks. For further information about the TEACH Act, see the resources below.
Below are frequently-asked questions relating to the use of copyrighted materials in online courseware.