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Copyright guidance

Information about copyright issues relevant to research, publishing, and teaching.

Classroom Use of Copyrighted Material

In in-person teaching situations, most display of material is covered under the Face-to-Face Teaching exemption.  This exemption allows instructors to perform or display copyrighted materials during face-to-face teaching activities.  For example, it is permissible to show a full-length motion picture in class as part of the classroom learning. Note, however, that this exemption does not permit copying or distributing a work -- only displaying or performing it during class time. Also, as the title implies, this exemption applies only to in-class presentations that will not be posted on the public Internet.  They do not apply to any presentation that is to be posted onto the Internet or sold commercially.  Posting to the Internet even a single copyrighted image within a presentation, such as a political cartoon, may not be a fair use. 

Where the Face-to-Face exemption is not available, faculty may look at Fair Use exemptions to present multimedia materials.  The 1997 Conference on Fair Use established guidelines for educators incorporating portions of lawfully acquired copyrighted works into their own educational multimedia programs. While these are guidelines only, and not mandated by law, they provide a good starting point for assessing whether your use of media qualifies as Fair Use. The recommended guidelines are: 

  • No more than 10% or 3 minutes (whichever is less) of motion-based works;
  • No more than 10% or 30 seconds (whichever is less) of a song or video;
  • No more than 10% of a text; and
  • Entire photographs or illustrations may be used provided that no more than 10% or 15 images (whichever is less) come from any one source.

In 2014, in the Georgia State litigation regarding the use of e-reserves and e-coursepacks, the appellate court found that all copyright guidelines are truly that – guidelines -- and do not substitute for an individualized analysis of the four factors of the fair use doctrine.  In particular, the court found that use of the central aspect of a work, even if less than 10% might not qualify as fair use. 

Copyrighted Material in Course Management Systems

Loading content into a course management system like Canvas, or otherwise making material and content accessible to students electronically, is equivalent to creating a printed course reader.  For both print and electronic use of content, the faculty member preparing the reading list is responsible for ensuring that permissions are obtained where needed for the reuse of published materials.  Services that print and distribute hard-copy course readers generally take on that responsibility and pass costs on to students who are purchasing the reader.  In online systems, faculty may have to take on that responsibility more directly.  Recent litigation indicates that a faculty member may make some very limited amounts of electronic content available for students to review provided that the faculty member has done an individualized assessment of the work under the four factors of the fair use test. 

In order to avoid permissions requests, consider linking to material whenever possible, as linking is not copying and does not require permission.

Protection of Stanford Course Material

Instructors are advised to place a copyright symbol followed by the name of the university and the current year (e.g., "(c) Stanford University, 2023") on all course assignments, syllabi, exams and other materials developed for a course. The University owns course content and enrolled students have a license to use the material for class. Students may not distribute any course content to others without the permission of the course instructor.