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Copyright: Copyright for Instructors

Public Domain

The public domain includes works that are no longer in copyright or were never copyrightable.  These works can be copied, distributed, or used for derivative works without restriction.  But remember that if you use someone else's work, even if it is out of copyright, you must cite your source to avoid plagiarism.

Works published by the US federal government are all in the public domain and can make excellent course resources.

Works first published in the United States before 1923 are now all in the public domain, as are some works published later if the copyright was not renewed.  The Digital Copyright Slider can help you determine if a work is now in the public domain.

Browse interesting public domain works at the Public Domain Review.

Copyright in the Classroom

There are some 3 exceptions within copyright law for educators.

  • Face to Face Teaching (17 USC 110) Allows performances or display of copyrighted works in a classroom setting at a non-profit educational institution if instructor is physically present.
  • Distance Education (17 USC 110.2 TEACH Act) Within a course management system, digital copies of copyrighted works may be made if
    • access is limited only to students in the course.
    • measures are taken to prevent copying (for example streaming as opposed to downloadable video.)
    • text and images are used in amounts similar to what would be used in a face to face classroom.
    • Usually only portions of video and music are allowed.
  • Fair Use (17 USC 107) Fair use is described by 17 USC 107 :

...the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include— 

(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.

An analysis of the four factors of fair use will not usually result in a clear yes or no answer to the question of can you use the material.  Fair use is about finding a way to do what you need to do in a way that is most clearly legal and low risk.  

Open Educational Resources

Tips for finding OER are available at PSU's OER Guide

OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that allows anyone to freely use and repurpose them. 

Open Educational Resources are broadly considered to meet the “5Rs Framework,” meaning that users are free to: 

  • Retain: Users have the right to make, archive, and "own" copies of the content.
  • Reuse:  Content can be reused in its unaltered form.
  • Revise: Content can be adapted, adjusted, modified or altered.
  • Remix: The original or revised content can be combined with other content to create something new.
  • Redistribute: Copies of the content can be shared with others in its original, revised or remixed form.

Electronic Reserves

The library provides several ways for you to use copyrighted materials in your class.

Databases & Subscriptions

The library has agreements with publishers such that we can provide access to online journal and ebook content to all of our students.  If you find a journal article or an ebook or ebook chapter in a library database that you would like to include in your course, you may copy and paste the permalink to that material into Moodle.  For assistance locating the permalink, visit this page or contact a librarian.

Electronic Reserves

If there is an article or a chapter in a book that you would like to include in your Moodle course, that is not available through the library databases, fill out the Electronic Reserves Form. When you do this, the library will pay the copyright clearance fees for the number of students in your class, so that it can legally be shared.  Materials must be

  • physically owned by the library or
  • physically owned by the professor

If neither you nor the library owns the material, request that the library purchase a copy.  Interlibrary loaned material may not be scanned for electronic reserves.