Step-by-Step Guide to Copyright Compliance

for Electronic Course Materials

Faculty are responsible for ensuring that their course materials comply with copyright law.

Restrict access.

If copyrighted materials are placed on the web, access must be restricted to authorized users. ERes, the UW Libraries' electronic reserve system, restricts access to current UW and Cascadia students, faculty and staff via UW NetID authentication. Materials may also be further restricted by assigning passwords at the course, folder, or document level. Faculty who use courseware such as Blackboard or Moodle, Catalyst Simple Site, or any other web technology need to apply similar restrictions.

Post a copyright notice.

As an example, students who use ERes are required to accept the following copyright statement before accessing their course materials:

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted materials. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research. If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of fair use that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

Evaluate each reading for copyright compliance every quarter.

The University of Washington uses a four-pronged approach to complying with copyright law for electronic materials:

    1. Licensed materials

    The UW Libraries license a variety of electronic materials for course use. To find out if your readings are licensed:

    2. Public domain materials

    Material in the public domain can be scanned and used for e-reserves without copyright restrictions. In general, government publications and older materials are in the public domain.

    Cornell University has an excellent chart listing copyright terms and when materials pass into the public domain.

    3. Fair use

    The library policy on reserve readings is derived from the fair use provisions of the United States Copyright Act of 1976. Section 107 of the Copyright Act expressly permits the making of multiple copies for classroom use:

    Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified in 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.

    The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

    There are no hard and fast rules about weighing the four factors to determine if a particular use is fair. Scanning one chapter of a book or one article from a journal issue for an online course reading is generally considered a fair use -- note that licenses govern the use of electronic versions of journals and books and links can usually be made directly to those resources.  Columbia University Libraries have a useful checklist to help instructors make informed decisions about fair use.

    4. Obtaining permission

    If a reading is not licensed or in the public domain and the use is not fair, instructors must get permission from the copyright holder in order to use it. The easiest way to do this is to put the reading in a course pack. The cost of copyright royalties is passed on to the students.

    More information about Obtaining Copyright Permission is available from the UW Law Library.