Copyright Basics for the Educators

The purpose of this guide is to provide faculty members with basic information about copyright law and the specific exceptions that apply to educational use.

The 6 Rights of Copyright

Under U.S. federal law, the copyright holder has the following exclusive rights:

  1.  The right to copy or reproduce the work in any format, whether digital or analog.
  2. The right to make derivative works (all kinds of adaptations of the work, including translations, revisions, film versions of books, etc.).
  3. The right to control the distribution of new (but not used) copies of the work.
  4. The right to perform the work publicly.
  5. The right to display the work publicly.
  6. The right to digital transmission (sound recordings only)

Copyright applies to works in every media form; copyright protection attaches automatically the moment a qualifying work is "fixed in a tangible medium of expression”.  In order for a work to be protected by copyright law, it must be "original" and the work must exist in some physical form. This includes but is not limited to literary, musical, and dramatic works, as well as photographs and graphics, audio and visual recordings, software, and other intellectual works. Therefore, works do not need to be published or registered in order to be fully protected by copyright. The © notice is no longer required for works created after 1989.

However, if the author creates the work in the scope and course of employment,  their employer is considered to be the author and copyright holder under the "work for hire" doctrine.

Canvas and Copyright

This guide is for educational purposes and not legal advice.

Canvas is a convenient option for housing documents and linking to outside resources. However, posting an item to Canvas (or another LMS) does not exempt an instructor from U.S. copyright regulations and several factors must be taken into consideration when seeking to distribute content and resources to your students.

Instructors are encouraged to follow copyright "best practices" as outlined in the Copyright Clearance Center’s publication, Using Learning Management Systems. These helpful best practices are summarized below.

Best Practices for Canvas

E-resources can be shared by using the Ares / Reserves system provided by the JET Library. For more information visit the Ares page on the Faculty Resources Libguide.

  • Whenever possible, link to content available outside Canvas.
    • Use permanent links instead of PDFs.
    • Include the citation along with the permalink.
    • Each database has the permalink in a different location, visit the Links: Articles page on the JET Integrations in Canvas LibGuide to learn more.
    • If you can't find a link to content JET library subscribes to, Ask a Librarian.
  • When all else fails, limit what you upload to Canvas, after checking Fair Use and TEACH Act guidelines.
    • One article from a periodical, per course - this should be done through Ares / Reserves
    • One chapter from a book - this should be done through Ares / Reserves
    • Only content that's closely related to course objectives
    • Original creator and copyright holder citations provided with the material
  • Avoid uploading videos or music. Link to streaming sources like Films On Demand or YouTube instead.
  • Use alternative OER content, licensed under Creative Commons, or Public Domain content.

Teach students to use research tools, like the ones listed below, to find articles and books from citations:

What can be posted directly?

E-resources can be posted / uploaded directly to Canvas when:

  • The material is made available by linking to a database or website rather than posting a PDF copy.
    • Instructions on linking to library resources can found on the Links pages on the JET Integrations in Canvas libguide.
  • A faculty member is the owner of the copyright in the work
    • If the work is traditionally published, the faculty member most likely did not retain the copyright and the copyright now belongs to the publisher
  • The material has been designated as open access by the copyright owner, see the Creative Commons page for more information.
  • The material is in the public domain
  • The intended use falls within Fair Use exemptions under copyright law, or under another copyright exception.
    • There are multiple factors for Fair Use - check the Exemptions: Fair Use page for more information.
    • There are several exempstions for teaching - check the Exemptions: Teaching pages for more information. 
  • The copyright owner has granted permission to distribute PDF copies or A license for the use of the material has been obtained
    • This is separate from the license the library has for databases and electronic resources
    • The faculty member would be responsible for obtaining such permissions - check the Requesting Permissions page.

Other Helpful Guides

Guides referenced during the creation of this page: