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Copyright guidance

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

Copyright Exceptions

While copyright holders' rights are exclusive, there are exceptions built in to copyright law that allow works to be used without permission of the copyright holder in specific conditions. If a work is protected by copyright, you need permission to copy, distribute, or display the work unless one of these exceptions apply to your use - there is no general copyright exception for educational use. 

The major exceptions that are used in the academic environment are:

Fair Use

Fair Use allows limited use of copyrighted materials for educational and research purposes.  The statute outlines four factors that should be assessed in determining whether a use is a Fair Use.  These are:

  • the purpose and character of your use
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market.

The test is intentionally flexible and fact dependent, so each potential use must be analyzed individually when assessing whether if it is a fair use. 

Teaching Exceptions

Face-to-Face Teaching

17 U.S.C. Section 110 provides an exemption to copyright for instructors to perform or display copyrighted materials during in person, 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. This exemption does not permit copying or distributing a work -- only displaying or performing it during class time. To qualify for the exemption, the performance or display must be made from a legally-obtained copy.  Also, the exemption only applies to courses at nonprofit educational institutions. 

Distance Learning

The TEACH Act extends the Face-to-Face Teaching exemption to distance learning courses in a limited way.  The exemption applies only to online courses restricted to registered students, and so may be applicable for Stanford courses that incorporate an online component. This exemption does not apply to iTunes U or to MOOCs (e.g. Coursera, NovoEd, Lagunita), which are open to students outside of Stanford. Faculty preparing such courses will need to rely on the fair use exemption or obtain permission to distribute copyrighted material.  

When the TEACH Act does apply, it allows the instructor to transmit performances of entire non-dramatic works and reasonable and limited portions of any other audiovisual work without obtaining permission.  For the act to apply, the performance or display must be:

  1. A regular part of mediated instructional activity;
  2. Made by, at the direction of, or under the supervision of the instructor; and
  3. Directly related and of material assistance to the content of the course.

Further, the following technological restraints must be in effect:

  1. The content must be accessible only to those students who are enrolled in the course;
  2. The content must be accessible only for the duration of a class session;
  3. To the extent technologically possible, the content must be protected from further distribution (“downstream-controlled”); and
  4. To the extent technologically possible, the content must not be subject to retention by students
  5. All material displayed must contain the following notice:

The materials on this course website are only for the use of students enrolled in this course for purposes associated with this course and may not be retained or further disseminated.  The materials on this course website may be protected by copyright; any further use of this material may be in violation of federal copyright law.

It is easier to satisfy the “technical restraints” described in the TEACH Act if you use Canvas to deliver your courses since Canvas has built-in functionalities that enable compliance with the TEACH Act’s requirements. For this and other compliance reasons (e.g., student privacy) associated with public posting of recorded lectures, instructors should not post recorded lectures on any site other than their Stanford Canvas course site.

Library and Archive Exceptions

Section 108 of the Copyright Act permits libraries and archives to make certain uses of copyrighted materials in order to serve the public and ensure the availability of works over time.  Among other things, Section 108 provides limited exceptions for libraries and archives to make copies in specified instances for preservation, replacement and patron access.  These exceptions will generally not apply to faculty, students, or staff outside of the library.