Resources for Teaching Faculty

Frequently Asked Questions

Using Copyrighted Works in Your Teaching—FAQ:

Questions Faculty and Teaching Assistants Need to Ask Themselves Frequently*

by Peggy Hoon, JD, Visiting Scholar for Campus Copyright and Intellectual Property, Association of Research Libraries


You don’t need a lawyer to answer many of your common copyright questions. What is needed, however, is for your decision about using a copyrighted work to rest solidly on a reasonable, good faith analysis of relevant circumstances. Such an effort is important because it is the right thing to do and because the US Copyright Act provides relief from monetary statutory damages to employees of non-profit educational institutions, acting within the scope of their employment, who base their copyright decision on a reasonable, good-faith evaluation.

This FAQ is arranged around a sequence of 6 overarching questions that collectively represent a good-faith analysis for circumstances that are common in teaching at most universities.

Ask yourself:

  1. Is the work copyrighted? If not, no further analysis is needed. If yes or if you don’t know, read on.
  2. What is the setting for the class where I want to display or hand out a copy of the work — is it in a face-to-face classroom or in an online course? The law allows different uses in different settings.
  3. Is the work covered by a license, such as those governing my library’s electronic journals and databases?
  4. Is there a specific provision in the copyright law that supports my proposed use without seeking prior permission from the copyright holder?
  5. Does the fair use provision of the copyright law justify my proposed use?
  6. Do I need permission from the copyright holder for the use I propose?

The information in the FAQ will help you explore these questions and reach an informed conclusion. When applied to a specific set of circumstances, the questions and responses will be interrelated so (if you are still reading after question #1) you are encouraged to review the entire part of the FAQ relevant for your classroom setting.


Part I: Uses in the Traditional Face-to-Face Classroom

Part II: Uses in the Online Classroom / Course Management System

* For a succinct starting point to questions on using copyrighted works in teaching, see the brochure Know Your Copy Rights—What You Can Do (Washington, DC: ARL, 2007).

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© 2007 Peggy Hoon
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 license

"Using Copyrighted Works in Your Teaching—FAQ: Questions Faculty and Teaching Assistants Need to Ask Themselves Frequently," by Peggy Hoon, JD (Washington DC: Association of Research Libraries, 2007)

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